Sentiments are comfortable but sound arguments require humility. Dimas Muhammad opinion in the Jakarta Post on the omnibus bill (Feb 19) proves the former but not the latter. His frame of analysis is not only extremely flaw but also, unfortunately, negligence. The problem with Dimas Muhammad’s article is not his position towards the bill but his train of thoughts. Economists, law experts, researchers, and journalists already discuss the bill more constructively. The Jakpost guide on the bill by Esther Samboh is a useful reference for readers who want to know more. Thus, this response does not discuss the omnibus bill because the core of Dimas’s writing is not about the bill but false compliance of making a sound opinion. It merely takes careful reading to see that his opinion and his frame of thinking is idle.
In the first two paragraphs, he cited an article in the New York Times, written by Nicholas Kristoff to raise a strange sentiment about jobless people. Kristoff’s piece, however, must be read in caution because he is not necessarily apparent on why people in Phnom Penh scavenging at the garbage dump. However, the author used the piece arbitrarily as an invitation to think that probably working in a factory is a dream for jobless people. Maybe he forgot that the title of Kristoff’s article is not “Where Factories Are a Dream” but “Where Sweatshops Are a Dream.” Change the words into “Where Factories with Low-wages and Bad Working Environment Are a Dream,” then a question appears: is it a dream or because there are not so many choices?
The author then continues his writing by putting the bill “in perspective.” What he means by “perspective” is the bill’s normative aim to reform the 2003 Labor Law. It is true. The omnibus bill is drafted to serve such a purpose. But in the next paragraph, he is baffled when mentioning a survey saying that “60 percent of Indonesians supported the bill.” Readers may question which survey he refers and by whom but more importantly, what kind of “perspective” he wants to convey? That the majority of people agree with the bill? The survey result is highly contentious and one must treat it with extra care. Instead of asking who are these 60 percent of Indonesians and how the survey works, he insists to using such flaw results as a “perspective.” I believe he is aware of the limit of the survey but retaining such narrative proves an inadvertence.
The article then invites readers to see the bill not “exclusively on its labor rules.” He then continues with a question of whether the bill is anti-labor. He answers it by saying that the bill remains covering some benefit schemes. It is strange that he asks readers to see the bill as a whole but cherry-picking the bill contents. If the author wants to see the bill less “exclusively on its labor rules,” he then should include, for instance, other regulations and laws on labor, the politics behind the bill, and the shady bureaucratic process of drafting. A piece of bill document is not a whole; it is a fraction of something bigger.
Further, he discusses the condition of the regional/global labor market. He uses data from 2015 to 2018 to expose the Indonesian status of labor productivity compared to Vietnam. His reading, however, is overly simplistic. He writes, “our workers are too expensive but not productive enough” without a doubt or a single question, why does it so at the very first place. He then implies with another sentiment that the voices of the victims of factory relocation are “often unheard” in the debate about the bill. It is misleading. Labor unions and activists have discussed this issue for years. Perhaps the author does not listen enough.
The author continues to discuss the importance of labor rule changes to attract investment. However, he omits the fact that the problem of investment in Indonesia is never about the labor regulation per se but also about regulation and environment for doing business. While he refers to the 2015 World Bank Enterprise surveys, he forgot to mention that according to the survey, the top obstacles for private firms in everyday operations are informal competitions, tax rates, political instability, and licensing. The way he read the survey by the Japanese company is too narrow as well. The whole survey mentions that the business confidence of Japanese-affiliated companies slowed down in almost all countries/regions.
The attempts to see the limit of the omnibus bill is appreciated. The author sees how the omnibus bill is necessary but not sufficient. Industrial policies must be in place as well. However, a question is raised. What is necessary, the omnibus bill itself or a real reform in labor regulation? Making an implication that the omnibus bill is the “reformation” Indonesia needs to improve its foreign investment is teleological. A growing threat of business relocation is one thing but a threat to human dignity is more than a thing. We can name a few of it: health and safety, inclusion to women and our rights including during monthly period and pregnancy, environmental rights, fair wage and pension, rights to unionized.
While demand for a fair analysis is understandable, hiding behind the faux moderate narrative of “don’t be too emotional” and nationalistic jargons only creates a chain of loopholes and erroneous inquiries.