Indonesian Police Detains Protesters on Second Day of Protests Over New Jobs Bill

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On 7 October, Indonesian police detained nearly 400 protesters for questioning after the second day of heated demonstrations over an “omnibus” jobs creation law that has outraged unions, who claim that it only favours businesses, and will hurt workers and the environment.

Demonstrations took place in at least 12 locations, with some protesters armed with Molotov cocktails and sharp weapons. Police detained 183 individuals outside parliament in Palembang, South Sumatra, and more than 200 in Jakarta. This was done after tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse crowds the day before.

Footage from Semarang, Java show angry protesters tearing down the fence of the local parliament complex, while enraged students in Jakarta and Bandung threw stones and burned tires.

What is this law about?

The “omnibus” jobs creation law was passed by the Indonesian government on 5 October, which revises more than 70 existing laws in a single vote, intends to speed up the pace of economic reform and improve the Indonesian investment climate. It was championed by President Joko Widodo to boost the economy in light of the pandemic, by reducing red tapes and attracting foreign investments.

“We want to simplify the licensing and bureaucracy [process]; we want speed, so a harmonisation of law is needed to create speedy services, speedy policymaking, so that Indonesia would be faster to respond to every world change,” said the President.

The swiftness in the passing of the law also comes as a shock to many, as parliament is usually “slow in making regulations, including the ones that are clearly needed by the people,” says Susi Dwi Harijanti of Bandung’s Padjajaran University.

Why are people upset?

What angers labour groups is that the bill will cut mandatory severance benefits paid to employers to 19 times from the current 32. It also abolishes the sectoral minimum wage in favour of minimum wages set by regional governors. However, a government fund will provide an additional six months’ pay to the newly unemployed.

Allowable overtime will be increased to a maximum of four hours in one day and 18 hours a week. Businesses will only be required to give workers one day off a week instead of two.

In addition, the law also relaxes environmental standards, only forcing businesses to file an environmental impact analysis if their projects are considered high risk. Global investors have warned that this change could potentially harm the country’s tropical forests.

Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), also weighed in, with its leader KH Said Aqil Siroj saying it would benefit only capitalists, investors and conglomerates and would “trample” on ordinary people.

How has the Indonesian government tried to assuage the concerns of the workers?

Economic minister Airlangga Hartarto sought to calm protesters and said many of their fears were based on false information.

“I can assure you wages will not be cut,” he told a virtual news conference.

Other ministers have also defended controversial provisions, including a land bank, saying the government would not take away farmers’ lands and the law would not weaken environmental protection.

 

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