JAKARTA — Hundreds of workers riding motorbikes and waving flags held a rally in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Monday, as protests calling on President Joko Widodo to repeal a controversial new jobs law entered a second week. Designed to boost investment and cut red tape, the so-called omnibus law has sparked widespread outcry, with protesters saying the law undermines labour rights and weakens environmental protections.
Demonstrations erupted in industrial areas and cities across the archipelago last week after the bill’s passage with chaotic scenes in some areas, public property torched, and almost 6,000 people arrested. On Monday, a union official estimated about 1,000 workers had gathered in central Jakarta for another protest against the law.
“We want the omnibus law to be revoked, and the government to issue a presidential decree to replace it,” Ema Liliefna of the Confederation of All Indonesia Trade Unions (KSBSI) told Reuters.
Widodo has defended the law, saying demonstrators were motivated by “disinformation” and urging critics to challenge the law in courts instead. Markets and the business community greeted the new law, which revises more than 70 existing laws and regulations, with cautious optimism, but critics say the changes were rushed through and undermine existing labour laws, including on severance pay and work hours.
Protesters held rallies in other major Indonesian cities on Monday, including in Bandung and Medan, according to media reports. In Gorontalo, on the island of Sulawesi, police arrested 60 and fired tear gas and a water cannon to disperse about 500 student demonstrators, Gorontalo police spokesman told Reuters.
Despite Widodo’s assurances that the law is needed to help create jobs as Southeast Asia’s pandemic-hit economy veers toward a recession, several groups, including Indonesia’s largest Islamic association, Nahdatul Ulama, have pledged to lodge a judicial review. Separately, an alliance of conservative Islamic organisations plans a protest outside the state palace on Tuesday, according to a statement.