JAKARTA, Indonesia - Thousands of Indonesian factory workers took to the streets in the country's capital Thursday to protest low wages and a new social security law that will require them to pay for health services.
Several thousand labourers rallied peacefully near the presidential palace in Jakarta before marching to the parliament building, said Jakarta police spokesman Col. Rikwanto, adding that nearly 20,000 police and soldiers were deployed to watch over the demonstration organized by Indonesian labour unions.
The protesters, dressed in red and black, shouted "Reject the law!" as buses and trucks arrived with loads of workers waving colorful flags and banners lambasting a 2011 law requiring workers to contribute a percentage of their pay for social security and health benefits. The law is expected to take effect in 2014.
The workers have refused to be burdened by additional premiums to obtain health insurance and social security, which they see as the government's responsibility as mandated by the constitution, said Yoris Raweyai, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers' Union.
"That law is clearly unconstitutional ... we want a revision," he said.
The protesters also demanded an increase in the minimum wage and the implementation of a government policy to stop companies from hiring temporary workers without benefits.
Similar protests have been held recently in other Indonesian cities, urging the government to improve wages in Southeast Asia's largest economy.
Factory workers in Indonesia earn an average basic salary of just over $120 a month. The economy grew 6.5 per cent last year, the fastest pace since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. The cost of living has been increasing, making it harder for workers to pay for food and other basic necessities.
The new governor of Jakarta agreed Tuesday to increase the minimum wage in the capital by more than 40 per cent to $228 from $158, a move that has prompted labour groups across the country to ask for higher pay. Local authorities in Indonesia set minimum wages that could vary in each region.