Photo: Sawit Watch, taken from World Rainforest Movement
The recurrent story of Indonesia’s “success” as the world’s largest producer of palm oil is in reality not followed by the similar success story for women workers in the oil palm plantation industry. This situation is often overlooked; yet, . Women handle 15 out of the 16 types of work that take place in oil palm plantations, included harvesting.
Oil palm plantations companies hire permanent and temporary workers (casual workers, contract workers and day laborers, known as The maintenance sector, which includes spraying, fertilizing and cleaning work, is not usually seen as core activities, so workers in this sector are mostly with non-permanent working statusMost of these workers are women and they work under precarious working conditions.
They face increased health risks since they are in direct contact with the chemical substances that are used in the plantations every day. Their rights for menstruation leave, maternity leave, routine checkups, and proper toilets and lactation facilities are never provided by the companies.
Generally, the employment relationship is not documented properly in a written agreement. Information related to wages and working hours are delivered verbally by the foreman.
Indonesian NGO Sawit watch found out in early 2019 that
“said one worker
The plantation’s labor union also demanded that pregnant women should not work or be given minor desk jobs, but the company management responded that everything is already arranged at the Kuala Lumpur Central Office in Malaysia.
Menstruation leave is also complicated even though, according to Indonesian labor regulations, all sectors and companies should give this right to their women employees. But there is no guarantee for women to get this right. ” voiced a woman worker.
Women workers with their status as casual or contract workers have usually . They are employed to harvest fruit bunches. The target depends on the working plot, known as . If the is in a swamp, the target is 1,25 hectares but if It is inland, the target is 1,5 hectares. Usually, companies do not provide specific protection equipment to work in a swamp , known as .
According to a casual worker, an will bring water up to an adult’s waist, and they are not provided with special clothes. said a woman worker.
It is never easy for women working in oil palm plantations to access health services provided by the companies due to complicated bureaucracy. If they want to request a sick leave, the management seems to complicate the process. In several cases,
In PT TN East Kalimantan, the company, which has 12,437 hectares, provides one clinic for the whole estate. Based on workers’ information, the procedure to obtain health service is too bureaucratic and the availability of medicines at the clinic is also limited. “said one of them.
In another oil palm plantation in North Sumatra, casual women workers are not facilitated with health insurances. If they suffer an illness, the company will not take care of their condition. They do not have the right to paid-leave. If they do not come to work, they will not earn wages.
It is different with permanent-workers, since their leave will still be paid at the end of the month. “If we don’t work, we will not earn any wage. If we get sick, we still come to work. Moreover, we can not go to the company clinic because we are only casual workers”, said one woman in North Sumatra’s oil palm plantation.
said one daily casual worker in North Kalimantan.
, as one casual worker told Sawit watch
The PT Agro Kati Lama (PT AKL) company, which is part of the Belgian agribusiness group SIPEF, operates oil palm plantations in South Sumatra. This company employs more than 1.200 casual women workers through 6 contract companies (third parties). Women work in the maintenance division with an average working period of only 8 days per month.
They mostly earn their Women who were hired via a third party are obliged to sign a letter stating that they will not sue for health insurance, religious holiday allowances and recovery costs caused by work accidents.
According to the women, since they joined PT AKL, they never received any working or protection equipment, they had to arrange something independently. They have also never been informed about the health impacts related to their work with sprayers and fertilizers. They often ask the company when it could provide them with adequate equipment, but there has been no answer at all. Lately, PT AKL has provided some incomplete stuff and only for some of the workers.
Moreover, the company is not responsible for working accidents. The two women who suffered an accident in 2017, have not yet received any compensation from PT AKL. They turned the responsibility over to the subcontractor.
The regulations that govern employment within monoculture plantations in Indonesia are not so clear to mandate labor protection, especially for women. .
Although it is true that the government of Indonesia, the world’s largest producer and consumer of crude palm oil, has issued a policy to recognize and respect labor rights, this policy is only applied in written agreement. Wilmar, for instance, issued a Corrective action plan and children protection policy to guarantee the fulfillment of labor rights, Golden Agri-Resources, through its subsidiary company SINARMAS Tbk, is one of the signatories of the UN Global Compact (UNGC).
At the consumer level, Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg, Nestlé, Unilever and Wilmar claim to be working to improve the working conditions throughout the palm oil supply chain in Indonesia. Field facts however show that
 Sawit watch investigation
 Guy Standing, “The Precariat,” 2011. The New Dangerous Class states that Precariat refers to the absence of guaranteed permanent employment, the absence of protection from arbitrary dismissal, the absence of guaranteed protection from work accidents or illness caused by work, unavailability of safety and health information, lack of opportunity to gain more skills and knowledge through internships, trainings for the sake of increasing competencies, minimum wages and absence of social security. Precariat have also no guarantee over the rights as citizens, including allying to an association. Some forms of precarious works involve all the forms of undesirable work, including low-paid wage work without any allowances (health, pension fund, bonuses, etc.), involuntary overtime work, working in hazardous conditions as well as in informal sector.
 See WRM Bulletin article, March 2018, Indonesia: Exploitation of women and violation of their rights in oil palm plantations, Zidane, Sawit watch.