In lead up to May Day, palm oil workers complain of low wages, lack of rights

CNN Indonesia – April 29, 2019
Plantation worker carries bundles of palm oil fruit (Republika)
Plantation worker carries bundles of palm oil fruit (Republika)

Jakarta – In the lead up to the commemoration of International Labour Day or May Day on May 1, the Palm Oil Workers Coalition (KBS) has again called on the government and companies to fulfill the rights of workers employed in the palm oil sector. They are demanding that the government fulfill its pledge to improve the management and welfare of palm oil workers.

“We are demanding improvements in labour management in palm oil plantations through the principles of welfare and justice, as well as our rights”, said KBS Coordinator Sunaryo Aritonang speaking in Cikini, Central Jakarta, on Sunday April 28.

Herwin Nasution, a representative of the Indonesian Plantation Trade Union (SBPI), which is part of the KBS, is asking the government to improve the supervision of labour regulations in the sector. Because, according to Nasution, there are no regulations which set a standard minimum wage for palm oil workers.

“Moreover many [workers] receive low wages which in general are less than the minimum”, said Nasution.

Nasution is asking the government to take firm action against palm oil companies that have been proven to deprive workers of their rights. Because, many companies actually do not comply with the agreements made between companies and trade unions. According to Nasution, this often happens because of the minimal supervision by the labour ministry.

“For example, there is a company in Kalimantan that sacked 400 palm oil workers. Yet they already had an agreement on severance pay witnessed by the Labour Office there, but they weren’t paid, it was given no attention”, he said.

In addition to this, he also touched on the minimal rights of women workers in the sector such as reductions in working hours during the last trimester of pregnancy. Yet the work is entirely physical and not very friendly towards women.

Palm Oil Watch (Sawit Watch) representative Zidan is asking the government and companies to pay attention to the status of workers in the palm oil sector. Because according to Zidan, there is no structure and little permanent employment in the sector.

“Most of them are only daily labourers, there are no healthcare guarantees, social protection and the like”, he said.

Transformation for Indonesian Justice (TuK Indonesia) representative Edi Sutrisno meanwhile is asking financial institutions such as banks to carrying out their social responsibility function as one of the components of a healthy business environment.

He is asking that banks not provide credit to palm oil companies who have been proven to have violated human rights, damaged the environment or are guilty of other questionable practices.

“The role of the banking sector is significant because the majority of palm oil company funds come from banks. The banking sector should be able to take into consideration and be more careful in making cooperative agreements with companies”, he said in conclusion. (uli/ayp)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Pemerintah Didesak Tindak Perusahaan Sawit Perampas Hak Buruh”.]