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Indonesian president quietly signs divisive stimulus into law overnight

[JAKARTA] Late Monday, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia quietly signed into law a divisive stimulus bill that has sent hundreds of thousands of Indonesians to the streets in protest.

The omnibus law was first pitched as a vital jobs-creation effort that would resuscitate Southeast Asia's largest economy, slashing red tape and clearing a thicket of regulations that have discouraged investment.

But when they woke up Tuesday, few Indonesians knew exactly what was in the new law, which had suddenly expanded from 812 to 1,187 pages. Inconsistencies abounded: Article 6 of 186, for instance, referred to an article 5(1) that was nowhere to be found.

Indonesia has the largest coronavirus caseload in the region, with at least 14,000 deaths, and this year its economy is on track to enter its first recession in more than 20 years.

Critics have decried the new law for stripping labour and environmental protections in a country where such safeguards are already poorly enforced. The stimulus measures allow for certain development projects to proceed without environmental assessments or consultation with Indigenous people. The burning of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands, largely to make way for palm-oil plantations, is a major source of global carbon emissions.

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The law gets rid of minimum severance pay requirements and mandatory days off for workers. It also allows businesses to replace full-time employees with cheaper contract workers. The Indonesian government says that it will generate about 1 million new jobs a year.

"The contents of the law, especially regarding the employment section, are almost entirely detrimental to the workers," Said Iqbal, president of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation, said Tuesday.

Mr Joko has sold the new law as necessary to make the world's fourth-most populous country a better place to do business.

After the stimulus bill was passed by parliament in early October, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians joined a three-day nationwide strike that, at times, devolved into violent protests. Mr Said said that the strikes will continue.

His union confederation filed a suit at the constitutional court Tuesday morning, arguing that the new law infringed on the constitutional rights of workers. A successful judicial review could lead to the law's annulment, but legal scholars said the likelihood of such an outcome was slim.


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