Posted: JAKARTA, Oct 31, 2013 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of workers went on strike across Indonesia Thursday, in the latest industrial action to hit Southeast Asia's top economy as its citizens seek a greater share of the spoils from stellar growth.
Unions are calling for hefty pay hikes as the cost of living skyrockets due to surging inflation, which has been driven up in recent months due to an unpopular fuel price hike.
Factories producing everything from clothes to electronics, often for international companies, stopped operations as workers across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands downed tools.
Union leaders said that 1.5 million people took part in the strike on the main island of Java alone. Their figures are usually higher than those given by the police, which said early reports indicated 60,000 had taken part in the capital and surrounding districts.
In the manufacturing hub of Bekasi just outside Jakarta, large groups of workers sat in groups outside factories, brandishing banners that read: "Hike our wages by 50 percent". "Life here in Bekasi is very expensive," said Muhammed Muhklas, 26, who works at a factory producing pharmaceuticals.
"We have to pay for housing, for food, and two million rupiah (a salary of around $175) a month doesn't cover our everyday needs," he said.
Security was tight with more than 1,500 police on duty in Bekasi and some 17,000 mobilised in Jakarta.
"All factories in Java's industrial hubs have stopped," said Said Iqbal, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union, adding that the strike would affect 20 of the nation's 34 provinces.
With inflation hitting 8.4 percent year-on-year in September, Iqbal said ordinary people were deeply concerned over the rising cost of living.
"Many workers who could not afford their rents have had to move out of their homes and live under bridges and in sewers. They are eating instant noodles instead of rice."
Workers say they have been hard hit by the government's decision in June to hike petrol prices by 44 percent and diesel by 22 percent, a move aimed at reducing subsidies that were gobbling up the state budget.
Workers are demanding "just a decent pay raise to compensate for inflation", said Iqbal, adding: "We labourers have contributed so much to the economy, why are we trampled upon?"
Strikes and protests by Indonesian workers have been on the rise as they demand higher wages at a time the economy is booming, clocking up average annual growth of above six percent in recent years.
Industrial action typical heats up in October and November as local governments decide on minimum wages for the following year in their areas.
Workers in Jakarta this year received a 44 percent increase in minimum salaries to 2.2 million rupiah ($200) a month, and others across the country have also receive sizeable raises.
Jakarta is due to decide on its new minimum wage between November 1 and 20, according to Iqbal, who said unions were calling for it to be hiked to 3.7 million rupiah.
However employers have expressed concerns that big salary hikes are denting profits and could lead foreign investors to take their business to neighbouring Asian countries.
The government has also raised concerns about soaring wages, particularly at a time when growth is slowing, and there has been recent economic turbulence due to fears that the US may reduce its stimulus programme.
Nevertheless, Indonesian factory workers remain some of the lowest-paid in Asia, often earning less than their counterparts in China or India.
Posted: SYDNEY, Oct 31, 2013 (AFP) - Scientists expressed "surprise and delight" Thursday after a new humpback dolphin species was identified off northern Australia, with genetic mapping singling out an animal not previously known to science.
A global team led by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society made the discovery after examining almost 200 dead dolphins and tissue specimens from live animals across the four Atlantic, Indian and Indo-Pacific ocean areas where humpbacks are known to live.
A study of the beak length and number of teeth in 180 skulls from beached and museum specimens, as well as live DNA samples from 235 dolphins, identified a new species in the humpback, or sousa genus, which frequents waters off northern Australia.
"Based on our combined genetic and morphological analyses, there is convincing evidence for at least four species within the genus," lead author Martin Mendez wrote in the paper, published in the latest edition of the journal Molecular Ecology, adding that this included "a new as-yet-unnamed species off northern Australia".
Biologist Guido Parra, a member of the study team from Australia's Flinders University, said it had long been debated that local humpbacks were distinct from their more distant cousins but there had been insufficient evidence until now to support the hypothesis.
"The unique thing about this study is that in previous debates the data sets were always limited - either purely genetic or based on traditional taxonomic studies," Parra told AFP.
"We were able to actually marry those two - so morphological and genetic - and not only marry those two approaches but also look across the entire (genus) range.
"We are very surprised and of course delighted to discover the recognition of a completely new species."
Humpback dolphins have a vast home range stretching from the tip of Australia all the way to Africa, and they are considered native to some 40 countries across Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
Parra gathered skin biopsy samples from both deceased and live humpbacks off northern Australia for the study, which he said was a "long-term collaborative global project".
The Wildlife Conservation Society said it was a significant finding - identifying a new mammal species is rare - and that it hoped it would boost conservation efforts.
Two of the three already-identified sousa species are in decline and considered at risk from habitat loss and fishing, with S. chinensis, or Chinese white dolphin, found in the eastern Indian and West Pacific Oceans, listed as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
S. teuszii, which lives in the Atlantic off West Africa and is known as the Atlantic humpback or Teusz's dolphin, is rated vulnerable.
The next step in the process would be to draw up a manuscript of the findings for consideration by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the body responsible for formally declaring and naming new species.
Parra said he could not reveal what potential names were being debated for the new humpback but said it would hopefully be "related to Australia".
It has been a bumper week for Australian scientists, with the discovery unveiled Monday of three new vertebrate species in a remote part of the country's north, isolated for millions of years and described as a "lost world".
Humpback dolphins are so named due to a distinctive hump just below their dorsal fin, which is also uniquely elongated.
Infant humpbacks are born a creamy or pearly white similar to a beluga whale and darken to grey as they reach adulthood. They typically grow to eight feet (2.4 metres) in length and live in coastal waters, deltas and estuaries.EVERY week, 22-year-old Jonathan Ong Jun Kai sheds his army fatigues for civilian clothes and drives to town.
But while his friends head out for family dinners or dates with girlfriends, Ong is off to school.
The marketing and finance major at Kaplan Singapore is one of an increasing number of full-time national servicemen (NSFs) enrolling in part-time degree courses at private schools even as they serve the nation, instead of waiting to resume their studies after two years of national service (NS).
They attend classes on weekends and in the evenings after they book out of camp.
This trend started just two years back, according to a Kaplan spokesman, adding that in the past only a "handful of students" were NSFs.
In 2011, 42 NSFs were pursuing part-time degrees at Kaplan. The figure went up to 73 last year, and this year, 139 out of 6,000 part-time students are NSFs.
"The NS men who choose to study part-time while serving the nation want to get a head start over their peers and enter the workforce earlier," said Kaplan Singapore's executive vice-president Leon Choong.
The head of MDIS School of Engineering, Dr Ben Lim Kheng Kiong, has also noticed that his classes are seeing more NSFs, whom he said are looking to "use their time more productively".
PSB Academy, meanwhile, has seen a "modest" 13% increase in the number of NSFs in part-time programmes from 2011 to 2012.
While the school would not reveal exact figures, dean Susie Khoo believes the trend will become more common in the coming years.
She said part-time courses offer NSFs flexibility, allowing them to "pursue personal development" while "not distracting them from serving their obligations to the nation".
Last month, the National University of Singapore announced that those who have completed NS would be able to take some modules online starting next January, instead of waiting for the school semester to start in August, giving them an early start of a couple of months.
Most of the NSFs attending part-time courses say that they prefer not to put their studies and career on hold for two years. By graduating sooner, they can secure jobs quicker, and start building up work experience earlier.
NSF Mohamed Sofian Mohamed Ali, a 22-year-old engineering student at PSB Academy where he has classes twice a week, added: "I want to have a head start and work full-time after I finish NS. I also want to earn a higher salary so, hopefully, the degree will give me a better standard of living."
The Temasek Polytechnic graduate, who sees his night classes as a retreat after a hard day of NS, added that studying part-time keeps him from forgetting everything he had learnt. -- The Straits Times / Asia News Network
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