Australian union bans Indonesian ships

MELBOURNE: Australia's powerful Maritime Trade Union, at the end of last September, launched rolling bans on Indonesian shipping to protest against the arrest of Indonesian trade union activists.

The lightning bans, called at short notice and designed to hold up ships for 24 hours, could apply on an irregular basis to all types of commodity exports to Indonesia, the union said. Australia's nearest Asian neighbour bought A$2.4 billion (US$1.9 billion) worth of Australian commodities in 1995.

"The bans are to protest against the recent arrests of independent labour leaders Muchtar Pakpahan and Dita Sari and the continuing repression following the July riots in Jakarta," the union said in a statement. Pakpahan, leader of the Indonesian Labour Welfare Union (SBSI), has been charged with subversion in connection with riots that rocked the Indonesian capital on July 27. The crime of subversion is punishable by death.

Five people died and 149 were injured in the Jakarta riots, Indonesia's official Human Rights Commission has said. Scores of buildings were set ablaze in the unrest, which was the worst since 1974.

The Maritime Union, which boasts of 10,000 members working around Australia as seamen and waterside workers, has a history of taking industrial action over events in Indonesia. The union has previously applied bans on Indonesian shipping in protest against Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and it supported the struggle for Indonesian independence after World War Two with blanket bans on the handling of Dutch ships.