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South-East Asian workers fight back against aviation job losses

news 20 Jul 2020

On 13 July in Indonesia, workers at regional low-cost airline Lion Air joined a demonstration outside the company’s head office to protest against the loss of 2,600 ground crew jobs. These workers had not received social security payments for three months, and are also owed additional amounts for Islamic holidays and redundancy pay.

Angga Saputra of the Airports Workers Federation in Indonesia (FSPBI) said: “Lion Air management’s decision to make unilateral lay-offs is not acceptable to its workers. The demonstration displayed the collective strength of workers united against the company's actions that are in violation of the Indonesian law. It also reiterated that unity is the main resource for workers.”

Lion Air management has promised to respond to the workers’ demands by 20 July, and ITF will be supporting local unions in asserting the rights of the ground crew. Having crushed earlier attempts at organising in its workplace, this is the first time that Lion Air has been forced to engage constructively with unions.

In Malaysia, over 50 cabin crew at Malindo Air have been brought back to work thanks to the efforts of the National Union of Flight Attendants (NUFAM). Malindo made a wave of redundancies in early April, but tenacious negotiating by NUFAM has meant these workers have been reinstated.

In Thailand, airport workers have continued their organising efforts to build ‘wall to wall’ unionisation across different occupations. Airports of Thailand runs many operations across the country but subcontracts its security guards to an outsourcing company. That company has made workers sign letters of resignation to avoid paying compensation they would be eligible to receive if they were formally made redundant.

In response, these workers are organising with Wingspan Workers Union and Airport Workers Union of Thailand (WWU-AWUT), which is now ready to establish a new branch for security guards. With over 1,000 new members about to join the union, WWU-AWUT will soon be able to trigger mandatory collective bargaining with the outsourcing company.

Napat Jitjaignam, a security guard and new WWU-AWUT member, said: “I knew that I should not sign that resignation letter, but I did not have a choice even though I worked with that company for over 13 years. The company forced me and other 1,200 co-workers to sign resignation letters to avoid paying compensation, or else we all would lose our jobs. I regretted that because we didn’t know how to fight. But at least we now know our basic labour rights from being WWU-AWUT members.”

Erin van der Maas, ITF airports organising programme coordinator, said: “To be growing membership and branches at this time is fantastic news, and testament to the hard work of organisers and unions across Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. While aviation workers around the world are facing retrenchment due to Covid-19, those in South-East Asia are fighting back.”