Guntur (48), a farm worker from the village of Rabambang, Gunung Mas district, Central Kalimantan, experienced difficulties. He had only worked for six months and was still a daily laborer. He had previously worked as an illegal miner but tried his luck on the plantation because he was afraid of being arrested by the police if he continued illegal mining. However, his hopes of living a better life on the palm plantation were not easily achieved.
Guntur was promised by the company to change his status to a fixed-term employment agreement (PKWT), but until now it has not yet been realized. He is worried that he will be let go by the company, as has happened to six of his relatives from the same village.
During six months of work, Guntur brought his own work equipment from home because he had to buy it himself and it was deducted from his salary. In addition, he still does not have any health insurance until now. “It was promised, but we still haven’t received it (health insurance),” he said.
To work, Guntur travels about two hours from his home. He doesn’t want to stay in the company’s dormitory because it’s not suitable. “There is only one shared bathroom and toilet, not in each house,” he said.
He is paid Rp 129,000 per day. The wage is calculated based on how many palm bunches can be harvested. His company doesn’t even set the working hours. He can only work eight hours a day. Guruh has not received a monthly salary like workers under the Fixed-Term Employment Agreement (PKWT) or contract employees.
The employment status of BHL is not in accordance with the Job Creation Law and the Manpower Law. According to these laws, companies must apply the system of fixed-term employment agreements (PKWT) or indefinite-term employment agreements (PKWTT). Thus, workers can obtain various rights, including monthly wages, health insurance, and many more.
Similar situations are experienced by workers in West Kalimantan. J (51), a permanent worker in a palm plantation in Kalbar, stated that the problem faced by local workers, especially BHL, is related to health insurance. The plantation where he works actually has a clinic. However, when a worker needs to be referred to a hospital in Pontianak, the cost is borne by the worker himself, except for emergencies.
“The company does not facilitate vehicles for delivery. There was once a regular daily worker who was asked to leave alone when referred to, “he said, Wednesday (26/7/2023).
BHL is also not registered with BPJS Health. Out of 2,000-3,000 workers in the palm plantation where he works, only around 20 percent are registered with BPJS Health. This is because their status is permanent or contract-based. Meanwhile, BHL does not yet have BPJS Health. “We are also fighting for this. According to management, they are still prioritizing high-risk workers, but it has not yet been realized,” he said.
For workers who are appointed as permanent employees with the PKWTT scheme, their fate may not necessarily be better. For example, E (35), has been working in a palm oil company since 2012 as a casual laborer. Then, he was only appointed as a permanent worker in 2019 as a palm oil harvester. Every day he has to harvest 550 kilograms of palm oil with a salary of IDR 80,000.
“With a daily income of Rp 80,000, I try to manage it as best as I can for household and children’s education needs. Sometimes I work on a contract basis, but it’s not certain,” he said.
In Aceh, HM (26) breaks through the dark to reach the gathering point inside a palm oil plantation in Seuneubok Cina Village, Indra Makmur Subdistrict, East Aceh every day. As a casual worker, HM is paid based on the number of palm bunches he harvests. During the low season or drought, he can only harvest 100 bunches. During the fruiting season, HM can harvest up to 300 bunches.
Every month, HM receives a minimum salary of IDR 2.5 million and a maximum of IDR 3.2 million. “Every month there’s always a deduction. The company’s reason is that there’s a decrease in fruit. Usually, one person is deducted IDR 100,000,” he said.
To earn additional income after working on the plantation, HM participated in transporting palm fruit to the truck. A full load is paid Rp 300,000-Rp 400,000. Having worked for 16 months, he hoped to be appointed as a contract worker through the PKWT scheme and then become a permanent employee. However, until now there is no information on when he will be upgraded to PKWT status.
Secretary of the Indonesian Palm Oil Workers Union (Sepasi) Kalteng, Dianto Arifin, said that the Job Creation Law worsens the lives of workers. “Currently, companies only need to employ them for three months, after which their contract ends and they are released. Workers are left wandering looking for work. Companies search for workers when in harvest season. Once the harvest is over, the contract is terminated. Workers have no certainty, protection, and their situation becomes worse,” he said.
Chairman of the Human Resources Development Department of the Indonesian Palm Oil Entrepreneurs Association (Gapki), Sumarjono Saragih, stated that the issue of labor supply companies (BHL) has been raised for a long time. However, in some cases, BHL became a conscious choice for workers. Nevertheless, Sumarjono claimed that the company continues to push for all employees to remain permanent.
“Therefore, the issue of BHL needs to find a compromise between the local community’s wisdom and Indonesian law. If the workers in the processing plant are all permanent employees who are bound by government regulations regarding working hours,” he said.
There is a compliance issue in the implementation of employment regulations. Data from the Ministry of Manpower shows that there are currently around 1,500 labor inspectors, while there will be 1.5 million companies required to report employment information online by 2023. This situation has caused suboptimal supervision of labor standards in the plantation sector, among others.
Director of Employment Norms Inspection Development at the Ministry of Manpower, Yuli Adiratna, stated that there is already Presidential Instruction Number 6 of 2019 regarding the National Action Plan for Sustainable Palm Oil Plantations. This action plan was developed collaboratively among various ministries/institutions.
Yuli acknowledges the issue of compliance in the implementation of employment regulations. Data from the Ministry of Manpower shows that the number of labor inspectors currently is around 1,500 people, while the number of companies that are required to report their employment status (WLKP) online by 2023 is 1.5 million enterprises. This situation, among others, has resulted in insufficient monitoring of employment norms in the plantation sector. Moreover, plantation locations also tend to be remote.
Not only palm oil workers, as comparison, tea pickers in West Java also have not thrived. This condition makes the tea plantation workers lack regeneration. According to the Chairman of the Sustainable Tea Farmer Association, Waras Paliant, most of the younger generation of tea pickers do not continue their parents’ work.
“Imagine, in a day, a tea worker can only earn IDR 35,000. And that’s not every day. It’s different from factory workers who can earn a salary equivalent to the regional minimum wage,” he said.
Most of the farmers and tea workers are elderly. Of the at least 30,000 members of the association spread across 14 areas around West Java and Central Java, almost all are over 40 years old.
This condition, according to Waras, threatens the potential of tea production in West Java and even in Indonesia. It is possible that palm oil will be abandoned by its workers, just like what happened to tea plantations, if it does not provide prosperity for them. Especially if in the future there is a more profitable commodity.
Also read: The Fate of Plantation Workers
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