Paul Budde's History Archives

Australian Trade Unions and the wage disputes of NEI workers

Back to 1942.  Very soon after their arrival there was a wage dispute with the approx. 5,000 ‘Indonesians’ that worked for the Dutch. Their wages were significant below Dutch and Australian wages for similar jobs.

In April that same year some 2,000 ‘Indonesian’[1] seamen, employed by the NEI authorities in Australia, went on strike over these wage differences, and were backed by the Seaman Union of Australia.  The heavy-handed Dutch jailed the strikers. The Union won the dispute and instead of £2 a month for unlimited hours they were paid £22 a month for an eight-hour day. Soon after that the prisoners were released, and most went back to the Dutch ships they worked on.  It would have been impossible for the Indonesian workmen to live on a £2 wage in Australia. Over the next two years other Australian unions assisted other Indonesian workers across Australia and eventually most of them received equal pay.

These activities cemented at a very early stage a close the link between the Indonesian workers and the Australian Trade Unions. Australia is known for its ‘Fair Go’ attitude.


[1] See earlier notes about the various people captured under the name ‘Indonesians’