Explainer: ‘New’ Anti-Worker Law in Indonesia

By Nick D.

On Tuesday March 21, 2023, the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) ratified Government Regulation in Lieu of Law Number 2/2022 on the Jobs Law (Perppu Cipta Kerja). This essentially replaces the infamous Jobs Creation Law – also known as the Omnibus Law – which was met with massive public backlash in 2020.

Criticism was aimed particularly at attempts to water down existing environmental and labour laws. Despite a widespread opposition campaign, the Bill was passed by Indonesian parliament in October 2020 and signed into law by President Joko Widodo at the start of November.

In 2021 however, the original Jobs Creation Law was ruled unconstitutional and the Constitutional Court called for the parliament to re-debate it over the coming two years. That period has now passed and Indonesia has a Jobs Creation Law 2.0 – with significant implications for the working class.

Justification of the new Jobs Law

The new Jobs Law has been praised as a win for foreign investors, with Reuters claiming that it will help “streamlining business rules in the bureaucracy-heavy country”. Creating a ‘favourable’ climate for investment – in order to achieve consistent GDP growth at all costs – has remained a driving force behind the new Law.

In January 2023, President Joko Widodo encouraged the passing of Perppu Cipta Kerja into law saying, “It was the threats of uncertainty that caused us to issue the Perppu, because it is to provide legal certainty… [for] both internal and external investors. That is the most important, because our economy in 2023 will depend heavily on investment and export”.

This type of narrow obsession with investment and annual GDP growth is very characteristic of the Widodo administration. Max Lane points out that justifications of the original 2020 Law reflected a “single-minded focus on reaching narrow statistical growth targets to be facilitated by improving ease of business’ through deregulation, even if it means the removal of labour, environmental and local government rights”.

Implications for the Working Class  

Dipo Negoro, a cadre of the Socialist Union (PS) in Indonesia and writer for Arah Juang, explained to Red Ant that, “in short, Perppu Cipta Kerja will legalise the multiple exploitations of capitalism: the exploitation of the working class and exploitation of natural resources”. 

Parto, a leader of the Militant Workers Union (SEBUMI), highlighted to Red Ant five areas of worker’s rights that will be worsened by the new law. These include leave entitlements, wage rates, contract work, outsourcing and severance pay.

The Chairperson of the Indonesian Trade Union Congress Alliance (KASBI), Sunar, explained in a video posted to YouTube that the new law is the same as the old Omnibus law but, “with a change of skin”. He elaborated,

“In the Job Creation Law, Sectoral Minimum Wages no longer exist… The second disadvantage for labour is the contract or outsourcing work system. Previously, outsourcing was imposed on five types of work. Now any work may be subject to outsourcing. The interval for permanency has also been extended from three years on two contracts to five years… In the two changes to the law, employers benefit more, even though the law is supposed to provide better conditions for employees”.

An Opportunist Opposition

While a majority of the parliament (seven out of nine factions) voted in favour of the new Jobs Law, two parties voted against: The Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) and the Democrat Party. During debates on the ratification of Perppu Cipta Kerja, the Democrat Party faction sought to interrupt DPR Speaker Puan Maharani. The PKS faction also attempted to interrupt the session and even staged a ‘walkout’.

Does this mean that PKS and the Democrat Party constitute a critical, pro-worker faction of Indonesian parliament? Firstly, both of these parties are currently outside the ruling coalition. When they were part of the ruling coalition – during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – they acted in the exact same way as the current ruling coalition.

As Dipo Negoro told Red Ant, the opposition of PKS and the Democrat Party does not relate to any ideological difference. Rather, these are opportunist manoeuvres, particularly in the lead up to the 2024 elections:

“When the Democrat Party and PKS oppose it [Perppu Cipta Kerja], it does not mean that they are supporters of the working class. In fact, the Democrat Party and PKS were involved from the start in discussing the Omnibus Law, then began their manoeuvres when it was being ratified.

The bourgeoisie, whether incumbent or in opposition, do not have a vision for the future of Indonesia, aside from keeping going the festivities of sharing around the booty won in the scramble for power. All of them have already been in power, and have been in ‘opposition’ – however there is no substantial, programmatic difference between the various factions of the bourgeoisie in Indonesia.”

The Movement Against Perppu Cipta Kerja

There has been a substantial opposition movement against the New Jobs Law – both in the lead up to debates in parliament and after it was ratified. This movement has involved NGOs as well as organisations of farmers, students, workers and fishing communities.

In the lead up to the DPR’s plenary session on March 21, several rallies were held outside the DPR building in Jakarta as well as outside regional parliament buildings such as in Makassar in South Sulawesi, Semarang in Central Java, and Lampung in South Sumatera.

In late February, an action organised in Jakarta under the name ‘Indonesian People’s Protest’ (Protes Rakyat Indonesia) saw the mobilisation of various civil society groups including trade unions, political groups, students, and environmental organisations. That same day, several thousand trade union members mobilised outside the DPR building in Central Jakarta, occupying the area until that evening.

A rally organised by the Labour Alliance with the People (GEBRAK) in mid-March again saw the mobilisation of several thousand organised workers. At this rally – organised under the slogan “Revoke the Perppu Deceit” – Sunar, the Chairperson of KASBI, called for a general strike by farmers and workers should Perppu Cipta Kerja become law.

Since the ratification of Perppu Cipta Kerja, street protests have continued to be organised in various parts of Indonesia, particularly by trade unions and students. As well as rallies, criticism has also appeared online.

The University of Indonesia Student Executive Council (BEM UI) for instance, responded to the announcement by sharing an animation on Twitter depicting the parliament as being full of rats with the caption “DEWAN PERAMPOK RAKYAT” (THE HOUSE, PLUNDERERS OF THE PEOPLE).

Where to From Here?

It is likely that street protests will continue to be organised in Jakarta and other regional cities around Indonesia. Other repressive measures – such as the Draft National Education System Law (Sisdiknas) and Labour Minister Regulation (Permenaker) Number 5/2023 – will add to the general feeling of discontent, particularly among students and workers.

However, the social opposition movement in Indonesia faces some serious challenges. Despite significant periods of upsurge in recent years – such as during the ‘Reform Corrupted’ (Reformasi Dikorupsi) and anti-Omnibus campaigns respectively – the ruling class have managed to avoid making any real concessions. Indeed, the new Jobs Law was passed successfully without any amendments demanded by the popular movement since 2020.

How the popular movement can overcome this situation is not yet clear. One thing that is clear is that Indonesia is still recovering from the mass destruction of organised left in 1965-66, and the subsequent repression of political organisation during the New Order dictatorship (1965-1998). Dipo Negoro, argues that victory of the popular classes in Indonesia requires a rebuilding of socialist organising today:  

“…The urgent need is to convince the working class as well as students to get organised. Even in the face of police barricades and repression, victory requires an organised resistance…

The spirit, militancy and courage of youth, workers and students must be combined with the capacity for scientific analysis, namely: Scientific Socialism. This is an understanding of the structure of capitalist society as well as the current situation… [and to] determine the strategy and tactics of struggle…”.

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