The endless suffering of palm oil labourers

Justice & Peace

VIVAT International Indonesia along with several NGOs and civil society organizations have conducted a survey to the three subsidiaries of palm oil plantations owned by the Wilmar International group  in the East Kotawaringin District of Central Kalimantan. The survey was primarily focused on two main issues, the rights of the laborers and child labor.

The survey team interviewed 25 laborers (respondents) who work in the Wilmar’s plantation area. Out of the 25, 23 were palm oil workers from all over Indonesia while the other 2 were local workers; of whom 5 were women and 20 were men. They generally work as harvest laborers and loaders of fruit of palm oil, working periods between 9 months to 10 years.

Using the results from the interviews and the focus group discussion, (FGD) the team discovered the existence of violating acts or controversial practices done by the three subsidiaries companies. They violated human rights with land grabbing of the community, ignored the laborers rights, violated the rights of the female workers and employed minors.

In 2006, Limited Liability Company (LLC) BSK 2, one of the Wilmar’s subsidiaries, annexed the community land in Pantap Village, Subdistrict of Mentaya Hulu, with a total of 1,482,900 hectares without a compensation fund. By the end of July 2013, a clash occurred between the company and the local community, as the owner of the land, due to the unlawful taking of the land by the company. The security team of the company then intimidated, repressed and acted violently towards the local community using machetes (mandau), spears and slingshots on those who protested the company, which resulted in injuries to the local community. This conflict was then brought to a negotiating table through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) mechanism. The conflict has, however, remained unresolved.

oil palm 2

Unjust Wages
Apart from the practice of land grabbing, the company was allegedly violating the rights of the workers of palm oil plantations. These infringements caused unfair and non-transparent laborer’s standard act, prolonged and erratic work hours, had no employment of contract, had no labor union, had unilateral dismissal of workers by the company and lacked health insurance. The laborers felt intimidated and threatened and any damages to work equipment were charged to the laborers. Related to the unfair and non-transparent wage standard mechanism, the company very often paid an incompatible salary to the workers. Why did this happen? The company had used their own mechanism of working, which has benefited themselves while harming the workers. The Workers laborers were exploited for the profits of the company. Moreover, the harvest of the workers and the fruit of the palm fruit loaded into the truck was weighed at a factory site and never informed to the workers. Some workers stated that the company manipulated the actual weight and as a result, the workers never got correct wages in accordance with what the work they did. This was particularly experienced by those workers of palm fruit harvesters and palm oil loaders into trucks.

Even though the company has never applied the working hours exceeding the normal work limits (eight hours a day), which resulted into a practice of prolonging the working hours period. This is contradictory. The company determines the target of the crops (for instance 100 baskets) must be achieved by every worker each day. Normally, it is impossible for a worker to meet this standard within an 8 hour working day. Therefore, the workers were forced to work more than eight hours a day and sometimes they had to make their wives and children help them. These working hours outside the normal working hours were not calculated as overtime.

Other violations done by the company were to not issue a contract between the company and the laborers (PT BSK 2). As a result, the laborers did not know their rights. The company only informed them of their obligations as workers. When the laborers began to insist/demand their rights, the company quite often intimidated and threatened them with being dismissed from the company. The struggle of the workers to demand their obligations was not done collectively, but individually, due to the rules of the company, which does not guarantee the establishment of a trade union. This is another infringement committed by the company.

Having no valid contract, the company is able to casually dismiss any worker from the company. A female worker, for instance, was dismissed by the company without a clear reason. When she was terminated from the company, she requested her severance pay, but was rejected. The company only gave her one additional month of her salary.

Not all labors work at PT BSK I have health insurance through the Indonesian National Health Insurance System, also known as BPJS. The insurance is covered by the company only for those who hold Pekerja harian tetap-PHT (permanent day laborer) status. Whereas, the insurance is not guaranteed for Buruh harian lepas-BHL (casual/temporary workers) and their families. There were other rules made by the company, which affected the workers. When a laborer gets sick, he/she is required to present a sick letter from the clinic everyday to inform the company and the sick worker has to stay at the clinic. If the working hours finish, the sick laborer can return to the camp. If the person is still sick, he/she must repeat the same procedure the following day. A question to be asked then, is, how can a laborer recover if he/she must go to the clinic to get a sick letter?

The labors must also work under pressure on many occasions. If they commit a mistake or claim their rights, they are terminated from the company. If they violate the law, a warning letter is given and their salary is cut by Rp 500.000. Not only that, any work and safety equipment must be supplied by the laborers themselves. The company actually provides the needed equipment, but forces the laborers to reimburse them. This is done with an automatic deduction of their salary. Any damage of the equipment is the responsibility of the worker including the damage of a truck, which belongs to the company, is the responsibility of the worker (driver).

The rights of female workers in the company are normally arranged in a specific manner, with rights for menstrual leave or maternity leave. Other than that, there are certain tasks, which cannot be done by female workers. Several company branches of Wilmar were allegedly conducting a practice against the rights of female workers. The female workers were never informed by the company about their rights, so they have to work on days of menstruation and the company allegedly has female workers doing hard labor.

Employing the minors was a practice of several company branches of Wilmar. In theory, the company strictly prohibits minors from working for the palm oil company, but the wholesale work system, which the company uses, has led the laborers to include their children in their work. Ironically, the company has allowed these children to work with their parents. Moreover, the company has also allegedly manipulated the identity of these children by falsifying their ages on their identity card.

(From VIVAT Indonesia News Letter, translated in English by Fr. Kasmir Nema)

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