The Palm Scribe

Workers Want Better Protection as Priority in Oil Palm Sector Management 

The Coalition of Oil Palm Workers is calling on the government to evaluate labor practices in oil palm plantations, saying that labor protection policies were really relevant in improving the management of oil palm plantations as sought by the government when it issued a moratorium on oil palm plantations three years ago.

In a written statement, the coalition said it deemed the improvements in the management of oil palm plantation should not merely be in the context of permits as certainty in work, wages and social and health assurances as well as the freedom to organized for oil palm workers should also be seen as part of efforts to improve the management.

“Therefore, a policy to protect workers is relevant to an improvement of oil palm plantation management. Such a policy would become a reference for improving labor practices in oil palm plantation,” said Hotler “Zidane” Pasaoran, Coordinator of the Coalition in the statement.

The coalition said that three years after the palm oil moratorium was issued to improve the sustainable management of oil palm plantations, there had been no significant changes in the fate of oil palm plantation workers.

The Moratorium, published in the form of Presidential instruction Number 8 of 2018 on the Postponing and Evaluation of Oil Palm Plantation Permits and on Raising the Productivity of Oil Palm Plantations on September 19, 2018,  should have provided the momentum to put order into oil palm plantation management in Indonesia, especially in the management of its labor force, the coalition said.

“We see that the palm oil moratorium did not result in any impact in improving the conditions of oil palm plantation labor. Even though it is now three-year-old, the moratorium has not touched the conditions of oil palm plantation labor in Indonesia,” said Zidane who is also a labor specialist with Sawit Watch.

He said that so far the number of labor toiling in oil palm plantations without work certainty, as well as certainty in wages and health coverage was still massive.

Herwin Nasution, Chairman  of the Indonesian Union of Independent Plantation Labor (Serbundo) said that the large number of labor working in oil palm plantations should have warranted attention from the government in the context of evaluating the management of oil palm plantations.

“Since the beginning we have seen that the Presidential Instruction on the moratorium did not place the conditions of  oil palm plantation workers in Indonesia as something very important to evaluate,” said Nasution.

He also said that there were hundreds of Serbundo members in East Kalimantan, North Sumatra, and South Sumatra who had been laid off without any protection from the government. Struction so freedom to organize of the labor force was also taking place in Sumatra and Kalimantan he added, “In the context of evaluating the management, the actions of companies to lay off labor and obstructing the freedom to organize should get the attention of the government,” Nasution said.

Ismet Sinoni, Head of the Organizational Department of the Association of Independent Labor Unions (GBSI) said that the bad conditions of workers in oil palm plantations remained until now, and even during the current Covid-19 pandemic when they should have received better protection.

“We see that the management of labor in oil palm plantations is not seen as something important for the government to improve. On the other hand, whenever there is something discovered, the government would only see it as part of a black campaign,” Sinoni said.

Taufik Donatan, chair of the Intan Estate Plantation Labor Union (SPBunEHP) stressed the need for the government to be serious in looking at the condition of the labor force in oil palm plantations, especially its female workers. “ Female labor are really  ignored, they work for years as daily hires without any certainty about being able to become permanent workers,” Donatan said.

The Oil Palm Labor Coalition gathers more than 20 non-profit, cross-sectoral organizations as well as labor unions from across Indonesia.

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