By Ronna Nirmala and Arie Firdaus
Indonesian police arrested hundreds of people on Wednesday – the second day of protests across the nation – as labor-union members and others demonstrated against a newly adopted jobs creation law over concerns that it curtails workers’ rights.
The Indonesian parliament on Monday passed the law three days earlier than expected to avoid such protests, claiming it was needed to attract investment when the economy is facing the prospect of a recession caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the action, labor organizers and others announced that protests through Thursday would go on as scheduled.
In Jakarta, at least 200 people were arrested on suspicion of trying to stir unrest after outsiders joined student protesters at the parliament building, according to Yusri Yunus, the spokesman of police in the Indonesian capital.
“There are believed to be anarchists,” Yusri said in a statement. “They received an invitation on social media to protest at the House of Representatives building,” he said of those taken into custody.
Others protesters clashed with police near the complex and attacked a vehicle carrying the detainees, police said without releasing information about the number of demonstrators at the scene.
In Palembang on Sumatra island, police arrested another 183 protesters, city police chief Anom Setyadji said.
“They will face the law. Most of those arrested were students, but we are still questioning them,” Anom said, according to CNN Indonesia.
Elsewhere, demonstrators were injured when police fired rubber bullets at Pelita Bangsa University students who were protesting in the industrial town of Cikarang, near Jakarta.
“Six students are in serious condition. One student is undergoing a procedure for serious bleeding,” university spokeswoman Nining Yuningsih told CNN Indonesia.
A video shared by protesters on social media showed a motionless student whose face was bloodied being carried on a stretcher.
Meanwhile, more than 3,000 people returned for a second day of protests in Bandung, the country’s third largest city and capital of West Java province, according to the Associated Press. The rioters broke a metal fence at the provincial parliament building and threw fuel bombs, prompting officers to fire tear gas and water cannons, according to police.
In Semarang, the capital of Central Java province, protesters tore down the gate at the gubernatorial complex, city police chief Auliansyah Lubis said.
“We deplore the violence. We have urged them not to resort to anarchic acts,” Lubis said, adding that one officer was injured in the melee.
‘Rich are getting richer’
The country’s largest Islamic organization issued a statement in support of the protesters.
Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the law would hurt low-income workers.
“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he said in a statement on the organization’s website. “I hope the NU will take a stand on the law. Let us find an elegant way out.”
Labor union leaders have questioned the law, saying it undermines workers’ rights and threatens the environment. They said the law allows employers to pay lower wages, fire workers more easily and hire workers on short-term contracts without providing benefits.
“Obliterating labor rights, stripping away environmental protections, privatizing electricity and other provisions in the law, including on education, will have a devastating impact on families and households, impede transition to renewable energy and increase electricity prices,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of Indonesia’s International Trade Union Confederation, said in a statement earlier this week.
On Wednesday, government officials tried to allay concerns, saying labor rights would be protected.
“There are hoaxes circulating about the law. I emphasize that the minimum wage is not abolished, but still takes economic growth and inflation into account, and wages will not be cut,” said Airlangga Hartarto, coordinating minister for the economy, in a teleconference.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar rejected criticism from conservationists that the law would undermine environmental protection.
The law removes a requirement for companies to involve the local population in assessing the environmental impacts of their operations, leaving the tasks only to certified organizations and government agencies, according to officials. Investments considered to be low risk can proceed without having to submit an environmental impact analysis report first.
“The basic principles of the environmental impact analysis under this law do not change. What has changed are the procedures,” she said at the teleconference while arguing the changes were introduced to simplify business licensing.
“The law stipulates that a business license can be canceled if the application contains legal flaws, errors, untruths or falsified data,” she said.
More than 3.7 million Indonesians have lost their jobs because of ripple effects from COVID-19, bringing the number of unemployed in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy to 10.6 million, according to the Manpower Ministry. A World Bank report released late last month warned that Indonesia’s economy could shrink by 2.0 percent this year as its struggles to contain the pandemic.