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Indonesia erupts in protests for third day over controversial labour laws

ABC News - October 9, 2020

Police and demonstrators have clashed in the Indonesian capital on the third day of protests and strikes against a polarising new jobs law passed in South-East Asia's largest economy.

At least two students have been hospitalised with head injuries, and six police officers hurt.

Yesterday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace in central Jakarta, shouting and throwing stones. Protesters burned a traffic police post at an intersection near the palace, while others set fire to tires and fiberglass road barriers.

As night fell, some protesters set fire to a public transport shelter in downtown Jakarta, causing the area to turn an eerie orange colour.

Similar clashes occurred in large cities all over the country, including Yogyakarta, Medan, Makassar, Manado and Bandung, the capital of West Java province. About 1,000 protesters have been detained in Jakarta and more than 100 others arrested in other cities, according to police.

The "omnibus" jobs creation bill, passed into law on Monday, has seen thousands of people across the world's fourth-most populous nation take to the streets in protest against legislation they say undermines labour rights and weakens environmental protections.

It amended 79 previous laws and was intended to improve bureaucratic efficiency as part of the Indonesian Government's efforts to attract more investment to the country.

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

"This is our struggle for our children and grandchildren, and our future generations... If it's like this our wellbeing will decrease, and we will lack job certainty," Maulana Syarif, 45, who has worked at a motorcycle manufacturer for 25 years, told Reuters in Jakarta.

'I feel a responsibility to the people'

Indonesia is eagerly courting foreign investors as key drivers of economic growth in a nation where nearly half the population of 270 million is younger than 30.

The coronavirus pandemic has also battered the world's 16th-largest economy, and it is hoped the laws will cut red tape to spur a quick recovery.

Indonesian GDP fell by 5.3 per cent in the April-June quarter, according to Statistics Indonesia. The World Bank expects it to shrink by at least another 1.6 per cent before the year is out.

Bahlil Lahadalia, the head of Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board, appealed to young people to trust the Government's intent. "Please be assured this law is to create jobs for the unemployed Indonesian people," he said.

But others beg to differ. Labour union leader Jumisi called for protests to continue until the law was repealed, extending unions' initial plan for a three-day national strike ending Thursday.

"I feel a responsibility to the Indonesian people," said another demonstrator, IT student Arawinda Kartika, as she marched toward the palace. "I feel sorry for labourers working day and night without sufficient wages or power."

Two provincial governors urged the President to issue an emergency decree to cancel the law, they said in their social media accounts.

Fears grew of a surge in coronavirus cases from the protests, which are being held as infection rates are rising in many areas. Indonesia's official deaths rose Thursday to 11,580, the highest number in South-East Asia.

Six months on from Indonesia's first COVID-19 case, experts say the country is still experiencing its first wave and is yet to see a peak in the outbreak.

Some epidemiologists believe Indonesia's coronavirus numbers are significantly higher than official figures suggest. The country has one of the lowest rates of doctors and nurses per head of population globally.

National COVID-19 task force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito expressed concern about "potential spreaders" in the crowds of protesters across the country, especially in Jakarta, the centre of Indonesia's outbreak.

"We remind you that we are still in a pandemic condition, there is a public health emergency," he said as images showed demonstrators in close proximity, many without masks and ignoring social distancing.

The Government reported on Thursday that the total number of confirmed cases nationwide had risen to 320,564, including 11,580 deaths. Cases in Jakarta alone stood at 83,372 with 1,834 deaths. (AP/Reuters)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-09/indonesia-labour-law-protests-coronavirus-covid-19/1274681