Rosa Folia – Under a scorching sun, thousands of students and workers gathered in the Indonesian capital Jakarta this week to demand President Joko Widodo withdraw a controversial Jobs Creation Law that has sparked mass protests.
Approved by lawmakers on Oct. 5 and awaiting the president's signature, the so-called Omnibus Law was designed to attract foreign investors to the Southeast Asian country's economy by reducing red tape. But critics say the new rules loosen environmental regulations, disadvantage Indonesian workers, and fail to adequately protect the rights of religious minorities.
Anger has also been fueled by frustration over Indonesia's handling of COVID-19 as the country battles one of the worst outbreaks in Asia.
A series of rallies across the country this month were met with tight security. Some turned violent and there have been reports of police brutality and arrests of organizers mobilizing on Whatsapp groups. Jakarta authorities also arrested more than 130 people suspected of rioting and damaging public facilities.
Demonstrations continued this week and we spoke to a few of the protesters to get a better sense of what motivated them to come out.
A 36-year-old single mother of two who has gone to countless rallies in Jakarta, Sareh told VICE News she was disappointed the law was passed despite widespread public anger. Her frustration echoes criticism over the lack of transparency around the passage of the bill, which opponents felt did not include enough public input.
"Why didn't the government ask us first to make sure our rights were met?" she said. A member of a labor union, she is one of 38 factory workers from her company who lost their jobs in 2019. The virus has made the economic climate in the country even worse.
"In this pandemic, the government should just focus on how to reduce covid infections. But they chose to sign the law instead. We have no choice but to be here," she said.
Adam and Dea
Many of the protesters who have taken to the streets are university students like friends Adam and Dea who are deeply concerned about their future. They believe the law will disadvantage them as they enter a radically changed jobs market where employers have all the power.
"We will eventually graduate and find work. So we must fight against the law," Adam told VICE News while attending a recent protest in Jakarta.
He held a sign that said: "Do people need representatives? Even the representatives ignore the people."
His friend Dea, said his parents have supported his decision to be in the street with thousands of others. "This is my third rally," he said, smiling. "I'm hopeful that the government will revoke the Omnibus Law."
It is unclear when the president will sign the bill, but a spokesperson has said it will be soon.
A father of two in his 30s, Wawan also lost his job at a factory in the manufacturing industry last year. He believes the new law will make it even easier for employers to fire workers and control permanent versus temporary contracts, a main complaint among protesters.
"It means there is a possibility that someone will be a temporary contract employee forever," he said, referring to provisions on hiring for a specific period.