Commemoration of Labour Day 2018: Demanding the Protection of Palm Oil Labour

Press Release of the Palm Oil Labour Coalition[1]

Commemoration of Labour Day 2018: Demanding the Protection of Palm Oil Labour


1 May is the commemoration of the history of the struggle of labours 132 years ago against the arbitrariness of the employers. Through their accomplices, security forces, the employers arrested, imprisoned, and massacred hundreds of labour leaders but the effort was futile. The spirit of labours’ struggle cannot be broken. Instead, labours managed to humanise the workers, through the 8-8-8 regulation (8 hours of work, 8 hours or rest, 8 hours of recreation). Today, a century after that, labours still continue to wage a fire of their struggle, especially palm oil labours, where millions of labours are confined and forced to produce the extremely valuable “green gold” of Indonesia.

The Fact Sheet of Palm Oil Labour 2018 released by the Palm Oil Labour Coalition* early 2018, highlights two major issues faced by palm oil labour[2]: First, weak Law Enforcement due to the exploitation of palm oil labours resulting from extremely high and inhumane work targets, lack of protection of health and work safety, discrimination against women labour as well as the existence of Child Labour. Also included is the Practice of cheap wages that violates the minimum wage provision and the Freedom of association that is still a rare item. Independent labour unions are still experiencing suppression and intimidation from the employers.

Second, the absence of special regulations that guarantee the rights of palm oil labours. All this time, the guarantee of protection that exists in the manpower Law No. 13/2003 fails to provide protection to palm oil labours because the basis of criteria of the Manpower Law is the manufacturing sector, for example: working hours, workload (3.000 calories/day), work equipment, and availability of technology. The nature of the work in the plantation is completely different, beginning with the need for far higher calories and implementation of workload that cannot be determined only by working time. Currently, the need for labour rights protection in the agricultural/plantation sector is very urgent.

According to the Minister of Manpower, Hanif Dhakiri, in 2016 there are about 10 million people working in the palm oil plantation sector. NGO Sawit Watch estimates that at least 70% of palm oil labours are casual labours, i.e. workers with no certainty of work, income or future.[3]

Now in the context of palm oil as an export commodity, the existence of palm oil labours is neglected. At least this is seen in two documents launched by the European Union (EU) Parliament, in which there is no mention of labour issues in palm oil plantations. In an EU parliamentary resolution in early 2018 entitled Palm Oil and Deforestation of the Rainforests (Kelapa Sawit dan Deforestasi Hutan Tropis), they pointed out that the development of palm oil industry is a major cause of deforestation and climate change. Furthermore, EU has agreed to approve the proposal on Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II. The proposal will issue the use of biodiesel that is made from palm oil – of which the largest producer is Indonesia. The regulation is planned to take effect in 2021, so that palm oil is no longer used in biodiesel mixture in Europe because of its use for food.[4] It is clear that EU decision will not only worsen the lives of labours, but it will also not contribute to improving the working conditions in Indonesian palm oil plantations.

Similar with the EU parliament, the Indonesian government is also absent in providing protection to the rights of palm oil labours, although it is known that there are many violations of human rights and labour rights in Indonesian palm oil plantations. The government, through the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, is keen to defend Indonesian palm oil and lobbying the EU parliament even to the Vatican. It is known that Luhut met with the Director of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Peter Turkson on Wednesday (25/4/2018). According to Luhut, the Vatican will assist Indonesia in facing EU threats to eradicate the use of Indonesian palm oil-based[5] biodiesel as well as with the support of palm oil producing countries in Latin America and Africa to lobby together to the EU with the same objective. Unfortunately, the protection of palm oil labours has never been raised.

Palm oil diplomacy seems to leave a tragic fact that occurs every day and is experienced by smallholders, labours and palm oil farmers in Indonesia. It is time for the Indonesian government to see a strategic opportunity to increase the value of Indonesian palm oil commodities through the provision of special work protection for palm oil labours. At least, the benefit of palm oil labour protection will be felt by 10 million palm oil labours who are citizens of Indonesia.

Ahead of the commemoration of International Labour Day 1 May 2018, in order to improve the benefits of Indonesian palm for the welfare of palm oil labours, hereby the Indonesian Palm Oil Coalition is calling for:

  1. The Government of Indonesia to protect, fulfil and fully appreciate the basic rights of palm oil plantation labours, one of which is through the provision of special legislation for palm oil plantation labours.
  2. The Government of Indonesia to ratify the ILO Convention No. 110 of 1958 on Plantations and ILO Convention No. 184 of 2001 on Occupational Health and Safety in Plantations which governs the involvement of recruitment of migrant workers, employment contracts, wages, holidays and paid annual leave, weekly rest, maternity protection, workers compensation, rights to organise and collective bargaining, freedom of association, employment inspection, housing, and medical care.
  3. The Government of Indonesia in this case the Ministry of Manpower and/or the House of Parliament (DPR) immediately formulate and enact a Special Regulation for the Protection of Labour in the Palm Oil Sector that protects the rights of palm oil labours.
  4. The Government of Indonesia to enforce the law and take firm action against companies that violate the rights of palm oil labours.

Sunday, 29 April 2019


Palm Oil Labour Coalition

Contact persons:

  1. Zidane/Hotler Parsaoran (Sawit Watch) – 085846529850
  2. Natal Sidabutar (SERBUNDO) – 082274004007
  3. Era Purnama Sari (YLBHI) – 081210322745
  4. Akbar (TURC) – 085250818485
  5. Sekar Banjaran Aji (ELSAM) – 081287769880

*) The Indonesia Coalition for Oil Palm Workers is a coalition of 20 organisations either NGOs and Trade Unions initiated in 2017.

[1] Coalition of Indonesian Civil Society for Solidarity with Palm Oil Plantation Workers (hereinafter referred to as Palm Oil Labour Coalition) comprises of civil society organisations and labour unions.

[2] accessed on 20 April 2018

[3] Hanif Dhakiri at the 5th Congress of Sawit Watch Association at IPB Convention Centre, Tuesday 22 November


[4] accessed on 20 April 2018

[5] accessed on 20 April 2018