Indonesian workers rally against new job bill, massive lay-offs

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(Aug 25): Hundreds of Indonesian workers rallied outside the nation’s parliament against a sweeping legislation meant to make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees, undermining President Joko Widodo’s efforts to boost investment and revive an economy battered by Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions asked the lawmakers to reject the omnibus bill on job creation as it will eliminate minimum wages, curtail severance benefits and allow outsourcing of certain works. The unions also said the passage of the bill will allow easy entry of foreign workers and eliminate criminal punishment for employers denying minimum wages and other rights.

The bill on labor reform, the top agenda in Widodo’s second term, has run into opposition from labor groups and some political parties, delaying its passage. With the virus outbreak hitting small and big businesses alike, the president is pushing for its early parliamentary approval to spark a revival in private investment and creation of more jobs in the country’s manufacturing sector.

“Until now, we have not seen the government and the parliament’s strategy to avoid massive layoffs due to Covid-19 and the economic recession,” Said Iqbal, president of the confederation, said. “They seem to have closed their eyes to the imminent threat of layoffs, but what is being done is actually speeding up discussing the omnibus bill.”

The workers, wearing masks and waving placards and flags, also gathered outside the office of the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs and held rallies in several other provinces. The lawmakers and the government should be focused on efforts to prevent massive layoffs triggered by the pandemic, Iqbal said in a statement.

The confederation “agrees that more investment should enter Indonesia, the existing barriers must be removed and made easier,” Iqbal said in a statement. “But at the same time, the minimum protection for workers cannot be reduced or changed.”

The pandemic is seen adding about 3.7 million jobless to some 7 million already without work, according to Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa. New cases have surged across Indonesia in recent weeks after social-distancing rules were eased to help the economy. Confirmed cases now top 155,000 with more than 6,750 deaths, the highest death toll in the region.

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