The Jakarta Post
As taking to the streets risks spreading COVID-19, Workers and other members of the public have instead flooded lawmakers’ mobile phones with text messages expressing their objection to efforts to continue deliberating the controversial omnibus bill on job creation.
The public sent thousands of texts to members of the House of Representatives Legislation Body (Baleg) following a closed-door meeting held by lawmakers to discuss the bill on Tuesday.
Baleg chairman Supratman Andi Agtas wrote a Facebook status on Wednesday saying he had received 10,000 messages through SMS and WhatsApp after the meeting. Most of the texts had come from members of workers’ unions who had voiced their concern about the bill’s effect on working people. “It could be the biggest protest through social media in the country’s history,” the Gerindra politician wrote in the status.
“Thanks for reminding me and the other Baleg leaders. We will listen to your voice and fight for it in the deliberation of the omnibus bill on job creation.”
Baleg deputy chairman Willy Aditya of the NasDem Party said he had also received thousands of messages on his phone starting on Tuesday afternoon. He vowed to fight for workers in the deliberation.
He also suggested that the government drop the labor provisions of the bill and include them in revisions of other laws, asserting that the main substance of the bill should be to streamline the bureaucracy and attract investment.
"We have to focus on that. [...] NasDem has been suggesting shifting the labor cluster contents to other relevant laws, for example, the revisions of the Labor Law or the industrial relations dispute settlement law," he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. He argued that by focusing on the main objective, the bill could be deliberated smoothly and without protest.
Workers, activists and members of the public have repeatedly criticized the House and government for trying to push through the controversial bill. They have said it will harm democracy, the environment and the interests of workers. Protests against the bill continued amid the COVID-19 outbreak as the government imposed restrictions on public activities.
Lawmakers continued with the deliberation despite a public outcry demanding the bill be put on hold in light of the pandemic. Lawmakers were accused of lacking empathy as the virus upended many people’s lives, especially the poor.
Tuesday’s closed-door meeting was partially virtual and included members of Baleg. It was not scheduled on the House’s Tuesday agenda and began at 12 p.m. Journalists were invited to join at 3 p.m. via Zoom, a video conferencing program, just as the meeting was about to end.
Willy said the main result of the meeting was that the House and the government had established a working committee for the bill for next week.
Several labor groups have asked people to flood the phones of Baleg leaders, namely Supratman, Willy, Rieke Diah Pitaloka of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Achmad Baidowi of the United Development Party (PPP), with messages urging them to stop the deliberation of the government-initiated bill.
A chain message circulated by the groups on WhatsApp included the four lawmakers’ phone numbers and a message template:
"To the members of the House of Representatives,
I [enter your name], a [enter your occupation] in [enter your city] expressly reject the omnibus bill because it is very detrimental to workers and the public.
I ask the House to cancel the deliberation and focus on handling COVID-19."
The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI), one of the country’s largest labor groups, plans to hold a massive protest against the omnibus bill despite the pandemic.
Besides blasting lawmakers with text messages, labor unions and civil society organizations have also opposed the bill by taking their protests on online platforms. Some of the groups held joint discussions to educate members and the public about the possible effects of the bill.
"The omnibus bill puts an emphasis on corporate interests instead of workers. If the bill passes, it will only legitimize the exploitation of human and natural resources," Nining Elitos from the Congress of Indonesia Unions Alliance (KASBI) said in a discussion on Monday.
Nining said the House should focus its attention on the COVID-19 outbreak instead of rushing to deliberate controversial bills.
"Members of the House should be the voice of the people. Don't they see that many workers are suffering right now due to the outbreak? Thousands of workers were laid off without severance payment, many were asked to stay home without compensation, and those who are still working are not equipped with proper protective gear against the virus," she said.
Suarbudaya Rahadian, a pastor from the reformed Baptist Grace Community Church (GKA) who participated in the discussion, said the COVID-19 crisis had shown that the House never really prioritized people's interests.
"They only prioritize the interests of capital owners who sponsor them in politics. They seem very eager to pass the bills despite limitations, such as the physical distancing policy. I know we're in a tough situation right now due to the outbreak, but if we don't move now they could take action that will harm us in the future," Rahardian said.
Nining said that prior to the outbreak, unions had held rallies to protest the bills, and recently, they had sent a letter to the House demanding they cease deliberation.
"We're still considering what else we could do to stop the deliberations. Maybe we could stage a street rally while wearing masks and protective gear, but for now, we can only protest on online platforms, such as through social media," she said.