Protests as Indonesia uses pandemic to rip away workers’ rights

Tens of thousands of Indonesians took to the streets in every province of Indonesia from 6-8 October to protest the Widodo government’s Omnibus Law on Job Creation. The bill is a blow to labour, indigenous and environmental rights.

The government rushed the bill through parliament on Monday 5 October ahead of schedule and without proper consultation with the public.

Unions fear that the bill will see an increase in job insecurity, lower wages, and result in a reduction in severance and paid leave.

Previous labour law stipulated that workers could only be employed for two years on fixed-term contracts with one extension before being made permanent. Under the new bill, companies will be able to hire workers on insecure contracts indefinitely.

The outsourcing of jobs will become more rampant. Outsourcing was previously restricted to businesses’ “non-core activities” but this requirement has been removed under the new bill.

Changes to reduce severance and paid leave will make it easier for employers to sack workers, and it will put a greater burden of the severance costs on the state.

Changes to minimum wages will likely see many workers take a pay cut. Sectoral wages are to be scrapped while provincial wages will be determined either by inflation or economic growth.

Environmental organisations are also speaking out against the bill. Environmental Impact Assessments will only be required for “high risk business activities”. The central government will also be able to approve investment in areas currently protected by a moratorium on deforestation. Indigenous groups fear the changes will lead to further land grabs.

Sickeningly, the Indonesian government has pushed through the Omnibus law amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Indonesia has reported over 350,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 12,000 deaths. Despite the desperate need for greater healthcare and social assistance measures, the government has instead worked weekends to pass the Omnibus law.

The government has also used the COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings and protests to pass the Omnibus Law, as well as other pro-business laws such as the Revision of the Coal and Mineral Mining Law. Meanwhile deliberation of pro-worker draft bills, such as the Domestic Workers’ Protection Bill, continue to be delayed.

Despite restrictions on the right to protest and the health risks involved, ordinary Indonesians have felt no other option but to mobilise in opposition to the bill. Statistics Indonesia has reported a significant increase in poverty in Indonesia since COVID-19. The cutting of pay and conditions under the Omnibus Law will further entrench the poverty.

Police repression of the protests has been stark. More than 1,000 protesters in Jakarta alone were arrested. The Jakarta Alliance of Independent Journalists reported at least seven journalists covering the Jakarta protests experienced police violence, including being punched and kicked and having their cameras seized.

Major unions, including the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI), plan on challenging the bill in the Constitutional Court. Such a challenge however will be a long, drawn-out process unlikely to have a favourable outcome to workers. Strategic mobilisations and strikes, such as those that won significant wage rises in 2012, are key to opposing the bill.

By Vivian Honan


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Poverty and unemployment surges as coronavirus sweeps Indonesia

Alang, a member of Socialist Unification and the union Sentral Gerakan Buruh Nasional in Indonesia explains the impact of the coronavirus and the economic crisis it has triggered.

Students shot dead as West Papua protests continue

Lethal violence from the Indonesian military and security forces has generated an “unprecedented crisis” in West Papua, according to human rights lawyer Veronica Koman.

Largest protests since 1998 shake Indonesia

Tens of thousands joined mass protests across Indonesia in September—the largest the country has seen since the movement in 1998 that brought down the dictator Suharto.