Why the drivers of Gojek, Grab and Shopee tried to sew their lips together in Indonesia
Blood spurted from Wely’s mouth as he pierced a sewing needle through his lower lip. Wely was one of five on-demand gig drivers who work for apps like Gojek, Grab and Shopee, who planned to close his lips this week to protest stagnant wages and poor working conditions.
But before Wely could continue, a man in a bright yellow shirt approached.
Budi Setiyadi, the former director general of land transport, had been sent there by the Ministry of Transport. He immediately addressed Wely and the other workers.
“Driver fees will soon be increased,” Setiyadi told protesters. “I can tell you it will be in a week or two.” The protest ended there, but not before the delivery drivers shouted angrily, reminding Setiyadi of the government’s past empty promises.
The lip stitching, meant to symbolize the difficulty drivers face in attracting the attention of regulators, is by far the most extreme act of protest by on-demand economy drivers in Indonesia to date.
National and international super apps operating in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country, are facing an increasingly militant labor movement. Desperation is growing among many construction workers, fueled by rampant inflation and a seemingly endless pandemic.
“We want to hold the government accountable [for] their own regulations,” said Mahmud, president of the association of conductors of concert works which coordinates the action. Rest of the world. “We are tired of continually protesting and sending letters to the ministry.”
Mahmud was referring to a series of ministerial regulations that promised delivery driver fees would be reassessed every 6 to 12 months. Furthermore, the regulation called for the protection of drivers despite their status as entrepreneurs – which many saw as one-sided and exploitative. The protesters say none of the promises have been kept and are also demanding that the government repeal a job creation bill seen as damaging the rights of gig workers.
“Many of us have come home with flying plates [thrown by our partners] for not bringing enough money,” said Sunardi, a protester and event coordinator. “We want a change today.”
Indonesia’s inflation rate in June was 4.35%, the highest in five years and exceeded the central bank’s target range of 2-4%. Prices of some staples, including cooking oil and chili peppers, have risen, affecting low-income households.
Rest of the world previously reported that drivers’ incomes had fallen by almost 70% during the pandemic, triggering often spontaneous local strikes among construction workers in Indonesia over the past two years. With this year’s economic downturn, protests are becoming more frequent.
Arif Novianto, a researcher at the Institute of Governance and Public Affairs at Gadjah Mada University, said Rest of the world that he estimated that there were twice as many protests between January and March 2022 than between 2020 and 2021. There have even been talks of nationwide strikes this year in an effort to unite as many associations of fragmented conductors for concert work as possible.
“The trend of gig worker protests is on the rise, and will increase even more if the government raises the price of unsubsidized gas,” Novianto said. “Groups are starting to strategize online on how to create a more united movement.”
Meanwhile, last year GoTo cut incentives and fees for GoFood drivers, prompting many to complain on social media. Competing platforms Grab and Sea Group have also slashed incentives and cut staff as tech companies focus on profitability, a July 2022 Morgan Stanley report showed.
Setiyadi, the former ministry official, told protesters the government promised to raise minimum driver fees by August 12. Drivers participating in Wednesday’s protest said Rest of the world that they were cautiously optimistic that the government would keep its word this time.
The increased fees will likely drive up costs for tech companies, which are already struggling to attract investors as the appetite for cash-consuming companies dwindles in the current macro environment. “Some investment concerns will materialize due to a potential increase in cost pressures ahead,” said Harry Su, managing director of investment firm Samuel International, commenting on the protest. GoTo’s share price has fallen around 20% since the start of the year, while shares of rivals Grab and Sea Group have fallen at least 60%.
Wely, the protester, said at the end of the day that he was still a bit skeptical that the regulatory changes would work. “If the fees still don’t go up, I’m going to get burned,” he said with a laugh before walking away from the event.