10/06/2020, 10.16
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Jakarta, trade unions and citizens protest new jobs law

by Mathias Hariyadi

Critics say the "Omnibus Law" passed by the government and approved yesterday by Parliament favors exploitation and risks having repercussions on the environment, especially tropical forests. The promoters demand laws that regulate the market and favours foreign investment. The hypothesis of a general strike.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Mass protests and threats of a general strike, with the forces of the sector united on the streets in a critical moment due to the global pandemic of new coronavirus. Unions in Indonesia have declared war on the new jobs law, better known as the "Omnibus Law", approved yesterday by Parliament (Dpr) in plenary session with the favourable vote of seven parties, two against, because – they say - it ends up "legalizing" exploitation.

From the first moments of its drafting, the new norm had raised discontent and disagreements among the workers and the union forces; now that it has officially entered into force, the trade associations have already announced a general strike that will involve several more or less large cities in the Indonesian archipelago.

The goal of the new framework law is to clarify a sector tangled up by overlapping and contradictory norms, because every change of administration - regional or central - has seen the introduction of new labor regulations in the past. The Omnibus Law intends to synthesize and harmonize 70 existing laws in a single "package", to accelerate economic reforms and attract investment.

Entrepreneurs and international businessmen have looked carefully at Indonesia but, in recent times, have preferred to choose other destinations due to the too many protests and demonstrations by workers who demanded greater guarantees and adequate wages.

Investors see these demonstrations as a sign of a climate of internal instability leading them to choose other destinations in the ASEAN region, including Vietnam, today the number one option for the markets.

In April 2019, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo expressed his concerns, underlining, during a summit with ministers, that "23 Chinese companies have moved to Vietnam, another 10 to Malaysia or Thailand. Previously, in 2017 about seventy Japanese companies had left the archipelago relocating investments and infrastructures to other Southeast Asian nations considered more reliable.

Thus the government's decision to approve a new legislative framework which, according to the unions, is actually a "red carpet" laid out for multinationals to exploit local workers, with low wages and precarious conditions. The law would also allow the expropriation of land from farmers and indigenous peoples, depriving them of their natural habitat.

The pandemic of new coronavirus fits into this already complicated context which, in a few months, caused a collapse of 8.1 million in foreign investments. Experts and analysts stress the need for a reform of the labour market in Indonesia, without these going to the detriment of the environment and local populations.

The new law governing the labour market, scholar Peter van der Werf explains to Reuters, "risks having a negative impact" on the natural ecosystem, in particular on the tropical forests of which the archipelago is rich.

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