Jakarta, Oct 8 (efe-epa).- Protesters took to Indonesian streets for the third day Thursday against government labor reforms that critics say will curtail worker’s rights and damage the environment, a day after some 300 demonstrators were arrested.
The protests, which began on Monday, are being held throughout the archipelago and have mostly taken place peacefully, although there have been sporadic clashes between authorities and protesters.
Police in Bekasi, a city on the outskirts of Jakarta, were preparing 12 checkpoints to block large numbers of protesters from entering the capital in light of social distancing rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Labor union videos showed people, most wearing face masks, gathering in places such as Purwakarta in West Java, and Semarang, central Java, where they sang the national anthem.
On Wednesday, between 50 and 100 protesters were arrested in Semarang during a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Regional Representative Council where authorities used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, which in turn threw stones, bottles and firecrackers at the police.
Before another demonstration in Palembang, on the island of Sumatra, more than 180 protesters were arrested for allegedly intending to incite chaos and cause riots, according to authorities who seized knives and other sharp weapons and molotov cocktails.
In Bandung, West Java, where demonstrations had turned violent on Monday, protesters threw molotov cocktails at police, starting fires.
Several unions have called for strike action in opposition to a battery of laws approved by Indonesian lawmakers on Monday.
The new legislation is set to reform 70 laws and regulations in what the government claims is a campaign to create jobs and attract investors.
Critics of the reforms say the changes will reduce workers’ rights, affecting minimum wage and unemployment benefits as well as potentially damaging the environment with a loosening of regulations.
The National Federation of Trade Unions (KSPN) on Tuesday said it had set up a committee to study the reforms passed by the legislators with the intention of challenging articles that violated the Indonesian constitution and the rights of workers at the country’s Constitutional Court.
Indonesia’s Economy Minister Airlangga Hartarto said during a parliamentary debate before the vote on the reforms that they were necessary to attract foreign investors.
The world’s fourth most populous country and 16th largest economy in terms of GDP, Indonesia lags behind other Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Vietnam, in terms of foreign investment.
The country’s GDP is expected to contract between 0.6 and 1.7 percent this year as a result of measures adopted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
It spells the worst recession in the country since the 1997-98 economic crisis in the region. EFE-EPA