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Jakarta Post

On May Day, workers marches go online to avoid coronavirus risk

  • Ghina Ghaliya
    Ghina Ghaliya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 1, 2020   /   06:52 pm
On May Day, workers marches go online to avoid coronavirus risk Workers hold a rally in front of the North Sumatra Legislative Council in Medan, North Sumatra on Labor Day, while wearing masks and keeping their distance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (JP/Apriadi Gunawan)

Many Indonesian workers went online to celebrate Labor Day, also known as or May Day, on Friday to avoid spreading and contracting the coronavirus, reiterating their rejection of the job creation bill and demanding protection during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Since Friday morning, hashtags to commemorate the day, created by workers and unions, have taken up the Twitter world: #TolakOmnibusLaw (RejectOmnibusBill), demanding an end to the deliberation of the omnibus bill on job creation and #BacotanBuruh (WorkersSpeak), which voices the need for labor rights, job protection amid the COVID-19 pandemics.

Workers also participated in the #TuntutanChallenge (DemandsChallenge), which adopts the new TikTok trend known as the "pass the brush challenge." Instead of "passing" the brush, the workers pass banners bearing their demands to the government and the employers, such as to stop massive layoffs, and to pay full Idul Fitri holiday bonuses (THR) and wages.

The latest Manpower Ministry data show that more than 1.9 million workers in both the formal and informal sectors had either been furloughed or laid off as of April 19, as companies temporarily halt operations to comply with large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).

 


The workers also demand better protections for workers on the front line in the battle against COVID-19, especially essential workers at hospitals.

Workers take part in a protest on May Day, or International Workers' Day, in Tangerang, Banten on May 1 to call on lawmakers to drop omnibus law discussions and focus on handling the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Workers take part in a protest on May Day, or International Workers' Day, in Tangerang, Banten on May 1 to call on lawmakers to drop omnibus law discussions and focus on handling the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (AFP/Fajrin Raharjo)

A coalition of three major labor unions in the country calling itself the Indonesian Labor Workers Assembly (MPBI), which previously planned to hold the rally on the streets, on Friday distributed protective equipment and hand sanitizer to hospitals in Greater Jakarta and other regions across the country.

"We pitched in our money for them, the frontliners working in the hospital," said Prihanani, deputy chairwoman of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI) and a MPBI member.

 

Other labor groups under the Labor with the People Movement (Gebrak), which includes various organizations such as farmers and media workers, voiced their demands via YouTube broadcast.

To fuel the digital rally, the workers from Gebrak also called on fellow workers to send texts to the leaders of the House of Representatives Legislation Body (Baleg) containing messages against the controversial bill, also known as the omnibus bill.

A similar initiative was carried out in early April following a closed-door meeting held by lawmakers to discuss the bill, causing some politicians’ cell phones to stop working.


Baleg chairman Willy Aditya of the NasDem Party told the Post that he had received thousands of texts from the workers since Friday morning. "I've received WhatsApp messages and missed calls."

The NasDem Party and the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) pushed the government to drop labor provisions from the omnibus bill on job creation following growing public opposition.

The workers later agreed to cancel the street protests after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo announced last Friday that the government had reached a deal with the House to delay deliberation of the labor provisions within the bill.

In Medan, North Sumatra several workers celebrated May Day by holding a "social distancing rally" to the province’s Legislative Council building, guarded by the police. The protesters maintained their distance and wore masks during the 30-minute rally.

Rallies involving a small number of people also took place in several factories in some regions across the country.


In Central Java, hundreds of workers worked with the government to distribute staple food packages to laid-off and furloughed workers on Friday.

Said Iqbal, president of the KSPI demanded the government require public audits of companies that claimed losses. He believed not all sectors had been equally hit by the pandemic.

“We want public audits for companies that claim losses. For those that survive, we demand they pay full THR and wages so that their purchasing power can be maintained and the economy can grow positively," he said on Friday.

"And the most important thing is to stop the pandemic so the economy can actively move.”

Iqbal said the MPBI leaders had also asked the government to issue a presidential decree to allow trade unions to join the drafting team of the omnibus bill so that it could accommodate the public’s interests.


Suherdjoko in Semarang and Apriadi Gunawan in Medan contributed to this story.