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Protests spread across Indonesia in opposition of omnibus jobs law

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Oct. 8 (UPI) — Tens of thousands of people in Indonesia took part in the third day of protests against a sweeping law cutting protections for workers and the environment.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters in the nation’s capital, Jakarta, where authorities said they had detained more than 800 people as protesters defied a ban on gathering amid the COVID-19 pandemic and attempted to march on the presidential palace.

Protesters threw rocks at police and burned a police post and two transit stops, as leaders of a national strike said the violence was not affiliated with the labor action.

The protests were sparked by a 900-page omnibus bill amending more than 75 laws allowing companies to cut pay for workers, eliminate days off and hire contract workers.

It also relaxed environmental standards, only requiring businesses to file an environmental impact analysis for projects that are considered high risk.

The government said the law is designed to strengthen the economy amid negative impacts due to the pandemic by opening it to more foreign investment.

“We want to simplify the licensing and bureaucracy [process], we want speed, so a harmonization of law is needed to create speedy services, speedy policymaking so that Indonesia would be faster to respond to every world change,” President Joko Widodo told the BBC.

A coalition of 15 activist groups, including trade unions, have opposed the bill and called on workers to join a national strike.

“It is staggering that while Indonesia is, like other countries, facing the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic the government would seek to further destabilize people’s lives and ruin their livelihoods so that foreign companies can extract wealth from the country,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Organizers said protests have been held in more than 60 locations and that about 1 million people have participated in walkouts each day.

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