Indonesia police arrest more than 20 as thousands protest against new jobs law

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police arrested 23 protesters in two industrial areas of Java island, using tear gas and water cannon as thousands across the country demonstrated against a new jobs law that critics say weakens worker rights and environmental regulation.

Edy Sumardi, a police spokesman in Banten on Java island, said on Wednesday that 14 demonstrators had been arrested in the province west of Jakarta during protests on Tuesday that continued into the evening.

Another police spokesman, Erdi Adrimulan Chaniago, said a further nine had been arrested in the city of Bandung, West Java. He said authorities would monitor factories and university campuses in case of further demonstrations.

The sweeping new legislation, passed into law by parliament on Monday, has been championed by the government of President Joko Widodo as key to boosting the competitiveness of Southeast Asia’s largest economy, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, by cutting red tape and attracting foreign investment.

But amid a social media outcry, critics say the legislation, which revises more than 70 existing laws and regulations, comes at the expense of weakened labour protection and relaxed environmental rules. [nL4N2GW1HU]

The earlier-than-expected passage of the bill, at a time when police had restricted demonstrations in the capital Jakarta on public health grounds, has also raised concern among academics and activists of a lack of consultation.

Tuesday’s largely peaceful street protests in more than six Indonesian cities were accompanied by a backlash on social media, with Indonesians criticising the law using expletive hashtags that went viral.

An online petition calling for the law to be repealed has garnered more than 1.3 million signatures.

On Wednesday, the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions said in a statement it would continue a planned three-day strike after claiming hundreds of thousands had left their factories on Tuesday.

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Kenneth Maxwell)

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