Thousands protest Indonesian labour law overhaul plan


Steadfast support Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi shaking hands before a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw. Xi doubled down on his support for Suu Kyi on Saturday, signing dozens of infrastructure and trade deals as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative. — AFP

JAKARTA: Indonesian labour unions threatened to step up protests and strike against a government plan to go ahead with a reform package that includes a controversial overhaul of the nation’s job law.

Thousands of protesters hit the streets in Jakarta yesterday amid heavy rain to rally against a new job Bill, well short of the tens of thousands expected by organisers.

Undaunted, union leaders said there would be further protests and strikes across the country.

With economic growth hovering around the 5% mark, President Joko Widodo has put passing the omnibus Bill on job creation that aims to boost investment at the centre of his second term agenda.

But the legislation, which would simplify permit processes for investors as well as overhaul key parts of Indonesia’s decades old labour law, has also attracted the ire of employee unions.

“The government wants to build a heaven for businessmen, but they don’t realise that it will bring hell for workers, ” Muchtar Pakpahan, leader of the Indonesian Workers Welfare Union, told lawmakers during a hearing in the parliament on Monday.

The new law would pave the way for all sectors to import unskilled foreign labour, he said.

Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, pledged to deliver to parliament the job Bill in the first 100 days of his second term.

Instead, the Bill’s finalisation was delayed several times, raising questions on whether the version that’s eventually put to lawmakers will go far enough to boost investment or be diluted to appease workers.

The numbers that showed up to protest on Monday would be unlikely to worry the president, who won a landslide victory in the presidential election held in April last year.

He has assembled a grand coalition that now includes most of the parties with seats in the parliament.

Under the omnibus Bill, 79 laws comprising over 1,200 clauses will be revised as part of an effort to streamline licensing and make it easier to do business in Indonesia.

The Bill will also revise restrictions on foreign ownership, relax working visa rules for certain sectors and create incentives for downstream mining activities.

Jokowi sees the omnibus Bill as necessary to make Indonesia more competitive in attracting investment that has otherwise been flowing into neighbouring countries.

But he also must balance the interests of both businesses and labour unions, as well as politicians worried about how the reform would play out among voters.

Ribka Tjiptaning, a lawmaker from Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said she would support the labour unions.

“I propose to our leaders to reject this omnibus law. I also reject the revision of labour law, ” she said. — Bloomberg

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