Indonesian police fire tear gas at jobs law protesters; Islamic groups, students join movement


Indonesian police fired tear gas at demonstrators in central Jakarta, a Reuters witness said, as protests over a controversial new labour law which the government say is designed to reduce red tape and attract investors, now on its second week.

More than 1,000 protesters from Islamic and student groups, wearing white Islamic garb and waving red and white Indonesian flags, gathered in the world’s most populous Muslim nation on Tuesday (Oct. 13) to show discontent over a divisive new jobs law.

The conservative Islamic groups were among the latest to join the volatile street demonstrations.

Pressure is mounting on the government in Jakarta to repeal a law that many say undermines labour rights and environmental protections.

The country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, is among its opponents and says it favours conglomerates while “trampling” on the rights of working-class Indonesians.

Hamdan, a 53-year-old teacher who goes by one name, said he would keep protesting until the law was repealed.

“People can’t go out, some people can’t even eat and unemployment is still high,” he told Reuters in Jakarta. “Even my son still can’t find a job.”

Protests against the so-called omnibus law took place in multiple locations involving thousands of Indonesians last week, some of which saw streets blocked, tyres burned and rocks hurled, leading to more than 6,000 people being detained.

“The bill will definitely affect myself, my job, my relatives, my friends and everything,” said engineer Rafi Zakaria, 30.

“It doesn’t only affect labourers. Our students here joined the protest because they’re concerned about their parents’ jobs.”

The law, designed to reduce red tape and attract investors, has yet to be published and the unofficial versions circulating in the media and online have led to speculation and confusion.

Deputy house speaker Achmad Baidowi told Reuters the law would be sent to the president and made public on Wednesday (Oct. 14).

The government is standing by the legislation and President Joko Widodo has blamed the public outcry on disinformation. Indonesia’s defence minister has blamed the demonstrations on “foreign interference”.

“There are those who do not want to see Indonesia as conducive to investors, and want to always benefit from that,” the ministry spokesperson, Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, said, without elaborating. (Sources: CNA/Thomson Reuters Foundation)