Workers protest Indonesia's labour law in May Day rallies; Covid-19 total now stands at 1,672,880

Labour activists shout slogans during a protest on May Day or International Workers' Day in Surabaya on May 1, 2021.- AFP

JAKARTA, May 1 (AP): Workers in Indonesia marked international labor day on Saturday with significantly less attended marches due to coronavirus restrictions but thousands still vented their anger at a new law they say harms their rights and welfare.

About 50,000 workers from 3,000 companies and factories were expected to take part in traditional May Day marches in 200 cities and districts in South-East Asia's largest economy, said Said Iqbal, the president of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions.

However, most rallies are held outside factories or company compounds with strict health protocols, Iqbal said.

The Covid-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 4,512 within one day to 1,672,880, with the death toll adding by 131 to 45,652, the Health Ministry said on Saturday (May 1).

According to the ministry, 4,344 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,526,978.

The virus has spread to all the country's 34 provinces.

In the last 24 hours, Jakarta recorded 926 new cases, West Java 754, Riau 377, East Java 231 and Bangka Belitung 200.

No new positive cases were found in three provinces, namely Maluku, North Maluku and Papua during the past day.

In the Philippine capital, where a monthlong coronavirus lockdown has been extended by two weeks amid an alarming surge, police prevented hundreds of workers belonging to left-wing groups from holding a Labour Day rally at a public plaza, protest leader Renato Reyes said.

Authorities in the capital, Jakarta, the epicentre of the national epidemic, have warned labour groups to adhere to social distancing and other measures, which will significantly reduce crowds, said Jakarta Police spokesperson Yusri Yunus.

"We will strictly take action against those who violate health protocols during the May Day mass rally,” Yunus said, adding that more than 6,300 police personnel have been deployed to secure the capital.

Enraged over the new Job Creation Law, several hundred workers gathered near the national monument, waving colorful flags of labor groups and banners with demands. Others laid tomb effigies on the street to symbolize their hopeless and uncertain future under the new law.

"The Job Creation Law has incredibly buried our hope of a better future,” said Riden Hatam Aziz, one of the organisers.

They later marched to the Constitutional Court and near the presidential palace compound to demand the repeal of the legislation.

The demonstrators say the law will hurt workers by reducing severance pay, removing restrictions on manual labor by foreign workers, increasing the use of outsourcing, and converting monthly salaries to hourly wages.

President Joko Widodo signed the law in November despite days of protests in many Indonesian cities that turned violent weeks earlier.

The act amended 77 previous laws and was intended to improve bureaucratic efficiency as part of efforts by Widodo’s administration to attract more investment.

The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions and dozens of other organizations have filed a legal challenge against the Job Creation Law with the Constitutional Court.

"The difficult situation could lead to more strikes and protests this year,” Iqbal said.

Television reports showed hundreds of workers rallying in several other cities, including Makassar. They shouted demands for a raise in minimum wage and relaxed outsourcing rules.

In Manila, protesters gathered briefly at a busy Manila boulevard, demanding pandemic cash aid, wage subsidies and Covid-19 vaccines amid rising unemployment and hunger. Some opted to stage protest motorcades to avoid infections.

"Workers were largely left to fend for themselves while being locked down,” labor leader Josua Mata said. When workers protest the government’s mishandling of the pandemic that led to a massive loss of jobs and income, authorities suppress their basic right, Mata said.

Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III separately led a ceremony in Manila, where about 5,000 workers got their jabs for Covid-19. - AP
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