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Politics

Indonesia protests intensify over contentious omnibus bill

Police and protesters clash in Jakarta on third day of demonstrations

Demonstrators clash with police in Jakarta on Oct. 8 over the government's proposed labor reforms in a controversial "jobs creation" bill.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Police and protesters clashed in Jakarta on Thursday on the third day of demonstrations across Indonesia against a "job creation" omnibus bill that critics say will hurt workers and the environment.

A Jakarta police spokesperson said as many as 8,000 people took part in the protests on Thursday, including workers, students and staff in non-governmental organizations. Some protestors turned violent, setting fire to bus stations and roadside plastic barricades in central Jakarta, according to police.

Footage showed police in the city firing tear gas at protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in the northern part of the capital. Demonstrators hurled rocks in retaliation.

Protests also took place in other major cities across Indonesia on Thursday, including Makassar in South Sulawesi, Bandung in West Java and Semarang in Central Java.

The omnibus bill, passed ahead of schedule in parliament on Monday, makes sweeping changes to more than 70 laws in key sectors such as labor and tax. The legislation aimed at cutting red tape and boosting investment in the country is a cornerstone policy of President Joko Widodo's second term.

"Broadly, we think that the reform package -- if implemented well -- could move Indonesia toward a new regime of reduced policy uncertainties," said Helmi Arman, economist at Citi Indonesia. "This is because many clauses have endowed the central government with the authority to issue regulations in case deadlocks occur at the regional level."

But critics of the bill claim it damages workers' rights, weakens environmental protections, and was passed without adequate consultation with affected parties.

Thirty-six international investors including the U.K.'s Aviva Investors and Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management issued an open letter to Indonesian authorities earlier in the week, saying they "are concerned by certain modifications which could be potentially detrimental from an environment, social, and governance perspective if implemented."

A spokesperson for Factory Workers Federation, one of the labour organisations that took part in Thursday's protests, said in an online press conference that "[workers need to] continue to take action until the Omnibus Law is canceled."

Some controversial changes in the bill includes giving the central government more power over green issues such as the conducting of environmental impact analysis, and the removal of a clause that stipulated at least 30% of forest area must be maintained for watersheds and islands.

The government, however, has backtracked on some changes in the bill's draft.

In the articles that govern severance packages, the draft stipulated that employers "can provide" compensation money for matters such as unfulfilled paid leave -- a payment that was mandated in the original 2003 law. The bill that was voted on Monday reverted to the original wording that mandates that employers pay for "rights that should have been received."

There has also been confusion over whether the bill passed on Monday is final. Some members of Baleg, Indonesian parliament's legislative body, have said that they are still working on the final version of the legislation, according to local media.

Additional reporting by Ismi Damayanti.

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