JAKARTA: Protests in Indonesia turned violent on Thursday as workers and students rallied across the country for the third consecutive day against a controversial law that they say will erode workers’ protections, trigger job insecurity and destroy the environment. Hundreds of people have been arrested across the country.
The Omnibus Law on Job Creation Law was ratified by the Indonesian parliament during an unscheduled plenary session on Monday despite criticisms raised by workers, human rights activists and environmentalists.
The law was enacted to overhaul Indonesia’s labor regulations to attract more investors, which President Joko Widodo promised to do during his final term in office.
“We condemn the arrests which reflect the anti-democratic and repressive nature of the law enforcers,” Indonesia Labor Movement Center (SGBI) chairman Muhammad Yahya told Arab News on Thursday.
Violence erupted in several provinces, and in Jakarta police fired tear gas during a rally near the Presidential Palace, injuring dozens.
Yahya said about 50,000 workers and students joined Jakarta protests.
Thousands of factory workers in Indonesia’s main industrial zones in the country's most populous island of Java have held strikes since Thursday morning to protest against the law, causing disruptions to production.
Protesters have not been convinced by arguments put forward by officials who in a joint online press conference on Wednesday evening defended the passage of the law, arguing that it would encourage more investment and introduce more flexibility to anticipate changes brought by the automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices.
Investment Coordinating Agency (BKPM) chief Bahlil Lahadalia said 153 foreign companies have lined up to start doing business in Indonesia following the adoption of the law. “(Operations of) the 153 companies will create jobs,” he said, adding that 13 million Indonesians are currently looking for a job, including 6 million who have recently been laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
He said the law will help Indonesia achieve its target of $55.6 billion in realized investment this year. In July, BKPM reported that $27.4 billion of the annual target had already been reached.
Experts, however, are not convinced.
Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef) economist Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara said that it is unlikely that the new omnibus law will boost domestic and foreign investment this year and next.
“The more pressing problems that must be solved to recover investment level and attract foreign investors are the handling of COVID-19, weak household consumption, eradication of corruption, declining environmental quality and the cost of logistics. These issues were not addressed in the deliberation of the omnibus law,” Adhinegara said.