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Indonesia: Thousands protest against labor reforms

October 8, 2020

Protesters and striking workers have entered the third day of clashes with police against a new reform which they say undermines workers' rights. Thousands have taken to the streets and hundreds have been arrested.

Indonesien Protest gegen Arbeitsreformen
Image: Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Thousands of people took part in protests and strikes across Indonesia for a third straight day on Thursday in a call for the government to repeal its controversial "Omnibus" reform, which was enacted on Monday.

At least 600 people have been arrested in clashes with the police. Protesters said the new law undermines job security as well as environmental regulations. The government considers it a necessary step to encourage investment in the faltering economy.

Protesters, many of them students, gathered in major cities across the country on Thursday morning. Police responded to the street demonstrations with tear gas and water cannons. Two students were seriously injured in the confrontations.

Indonesia | Protests against labor reform
Hundreds of protesters push against a wall of policeImage: Idhad Zakaria/Antara Foto/Reuters

Police in the capital, Jakarta, prevented protesters from holding mass rallies in front of the parliament building by blocking the city's streets.

Workers and students united against the government

A video shared on Twitter showed protesters in the city of Semarang, on the island of Java, knocking down a gate while facing off against the police.

Workers also went out on strike against the new legislation. Said Iqbal, president of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers' Union (KSPI), which, along with 32 other trade unions, had called for the strike, said Thursday would be the third and final day of strikes.

Read more: Indonesia's first transgender public official breaks conservative mold

The "Omnibus" reform made changes to 79 other laws in order to improve bureaucratic efficiency, but protesters claimed that the legislation hurts workers by changing how the labor system regulates severance pay, outsourcing and dealing with wages.

Indonesia | Protests against labor reforms
A molotov clocktail explodes against police shieldsImage: Novrian Arb/Antara Foto/Reuters

Maulana Syarif, a 45-year-old vehicle production worker, told Reuters news agency he had joined the protest for the sake of future generations. "We ask that the law be repealed immediately," he said. 

"This is our struggle for our children and grandchildren and our future generations...If it's like this (with the new law) our well-being will decrease, and we will lack certainty in jobs," he added.

An economy in need of a cure

Indonesia's government under President Joko Widodo introduced the bill in order to increase foreign direct investment in the country as a means of boosting Southeast Asia's largest, but ailing, economy. 

The legislation cuts back on red tape and erodes labor and environmental protections in an attempt to appeal to businesses and investors. The reforms have been cautiously welcomed by some financial analysts, but other groups criticized the lack of consultation and expedited passing of the law.

ab/sms (Reuters, AP)