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Thousands rally against Indonesia labour bill change

Written by: Staff

JAKARTA, Apr 5: Thousands of Indonesians rallied across the world's fourth-most-populous country today to protest against a parliamentary move to revise employment laws.

Employers have complained that Indonesia's 2003 labour bill gave workers so many benefits and so much freedom to organise and strike that it dealt a blow to the country's economic competitiveness and its attractiveness to investors.

The 2003 bill was a product of the country's first democratic parliament after the 1998 fall of autocratic President Suharto.

Suharto had kept unions on a tight leash, but the business community says the new law went too far the other way.

The current parliament, elected in 2004, plans to amend the bill to give employers more flexibility, curb strikes and soften regulations on severance payment for dismissed workers.

Trade unions argue the revisions ignore the plight of workers and have vowed to keep protesting to pressure parliament into leaving the law unchanged.

Today, around 10,000 workers marched on major streets in Jakarta, creating traffic congestion and blocking the capital's special lanes for public transport.

One slogan on the banners unfurled by the protesters, who included bank employees and workers at foreign-owned factories, read: ''Hey, businessmen and leaders who have the hearts of devils, cancel those revisions.'' The protesters also passed out pamphlets saying the revisions could allow ''employers to fire workers without reason''.

The march stopped in front of Vice President Jusuf Kalla's office and a small group of protesters was allowed to meet him. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was on a trip outside Jakarta.

''We want to find a good solution for the workers and the business world in Indonesia. We do not intend to pressure the workers and make their lives difficult,'' Kalla told reporters after the meeting.

But rally leaders were not satisfied with their meeting.

''Up until now, there has been no firm statement. We will only say we are satisfied if the government pulls back the proposed revisions,'' said Abdul Gani, a union leader from the industrial city of Tangerang.

Similar rallies with thousands of participants were staged in at least five other cities in Indonesia, including on the industrial island of Batam, near Singapore, where protesters showered a government office with rocks.


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