Without workers the world will collapse. Protect the workers against Covid-19, now!

by | Apr 7, 2020 | Solidarity

The Transnational Palm Oil Labour Solidarity (TPOLS) Network urges all national governments and all companies to protect workers at all cost. The government and companies have to prioritize and ensure the protection of all working people’s health and livelihood against the Covid-19 pandemic. We urge the necessary actions to be taken, now!

We have identified three immediate needs in the current urgent situation:

Firstly, on health protection. In the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other developing and developed countries, there is a lack of proper health infrastructure, protective gear and procedures/ policies in place to examine and treat the potential and confirmed patients with the Covid-19 virus.

In Indonesia, there is a lack of effective mass, affordable and accessible health examination that has already led to the spread of the virus as well as undetected deaths. Meanwhile, there have been several cases in which hospitals have refused to treat the potential and confirmed patients with Covid-19 virus.

The ill-prepared Indonesian health infrastructure coupled with a serious shortage in protective gear and medical personnel have disproportionately impacted the working class who are are faced with the impossible choice of risking their health or lose their livelihood.

In Malaysia, the migrant workers in almost every sectors have reported difficulty in accessing medical examination and treatment. The Malaysian government has appropriately implemented a policy to examine the health of migrant workers, regardless their documentation status.

However, the decades of ill-treatment and arrest of undocumented migrants, especially in plantation, has caused migrant workers to internalize the fear of being targeted and abused. This has made it difficult for undocumented migrant workers to access health examinations and treatment. Further, testing centers and health facilities are located in the city, requiring migrants to travel outside the plantation area which is costly and potentially dangerous.

In the Philippines, the ill-planned lockdown resulted in the displacement of workers—especially the informal workers who earn their income on a daily basis. The government provides insufficient food supplies for those poor people in urban centers whos suffer from the lockdown. The majority of poor people will only undergo mass testing on April 14.

Secondly, on income and job security. There are emerging reports that many workers are required by their employers to work, even while most of the governments have announced measures urging social distancing, ‘working from home’, closure of some public services and even lockdown or quarantine policy.

In Malaysia, in particular Sabah, there are only a few regions where all plantations and mills/ refineries are instructed to temporarily stop production. In many other regions in Malaysia—and also in Indonesia and the Philippines—many plantations, mills/ refineries, factories, ports, and offices are still operating normally. This situation has increased the risk of the spread of the Covid-19 virus among the workers.

Moreover, there are many reports of companies failing to take measures to increase the level of OSH standards in the workplace. From plantations to the ports, workers are required to work without being supplied with vitamins and supplements and respiratory masks to prevent the spread of the virus. The standards of hygiene and sanitation have also not improved. Even more, there are complaints from the workers that their wages are being cut to 50% on the grounds of company’s loss.

On the other hand, in cases where companies allow workers to stay home, they are forced to take unpaid quarantine leave. Our concern in this case is that the workers and their families would not survive without sustainable income to meet their basic needs.

The lack of job security also increases the risk of virus transmission. There are reports from workers who lost their job/ source of income, especially among the internal migrants and migrants in foreign countries in both formal and informal sectors. The workers then have no other option than to return to their hometown where there is the risk they might carry the virus.

Thirdly, on food and basic needs. Where there are so many uncertainties, food and basic needs can become a serious problem. The food crisis is especially experienced by the unemployed, casual/ informal workers, women workers, homeless and refugees. This crisis has resulted in people’s uprising in the Philippines where protesters in Quezon city demanding food and other assistance—resulting in their arrest.

In remote and/ or isolated areas, such as in the massive palm oil plantations, quarantine/ lockdown policy prevents access to—and replenishment of—the supply of food and basic needs. Scarcity of these essentialsmay lead to hunger, malnutrition, and even starvation.

We hereby urge all national governments and all companies to address the immediate needs mentioned above without delay. Without healthy workers, the world will surely collapse. There will be no one to cultivate the land, to operate the machinery and to transport commodities. There will also not be enough purchasing power to sustain the world’s economy.

We demand for the government of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Germany and elsewhere to:

  • Ensure the universal free health treatment for all working people regardless of citizenship status, class, ethnicity, and race. The government must to prioritize their efforts to examine, monitor and treat any patient or suspect with the Covid-19 virus
    1. There should be free and accessible mass testing, treatment and protective equipment for all people with or without Covid-19 symptoms, especially for all frontline workers and communities where there are already confirmed cases
    2. The government should cover all medical costs, in cooperation with the company.
  • Reallocate and refocusing the state budget to support public healthcare and address the needs of the people, cut the salaries and benefits of state officials, and increase revenue by taxing the rich and corporations
  • Ensure the income and job security for all working people.
  • All national government should instruct the companies within their territory to comply with the national standards/ protocol on OSH, especially in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Concerning migrant workers and their families, all governments must cease any plans for mass arrest or deportation of the migrants whether undocumented or otherwise, whether unemployed or otherwise. All governments must also ensure migrant workers and their families are covered under national social protection scheme. The migrants should be treated equally as the citizen without any discrimination.
    1. Specifically for the Malaysian government to repeal the Health Circular 10/2001 that requires the healthcare providers to report undocumented migrants.
  • Ensure the provision of basic needs, especially food, medicine, and financial assistance for all working people until the pandemic has over.
    1. The government should provide financial and food assistance, especially for the affected working people who have lost their source of income. This assistance should apply to both local or migrant workers, both undocumented or documented.
    2. The government should expand the social safety net by extending housing assistance, expanding childcare for working families, and halting evictions, foreclosures and shutoffs of water and electricity.
    3. Any financial assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to workers directly, not shareholders or corporate executives. Any federal loans must be used to maintain payroll and benefits, not executive bonuses or stock buybacks.
  • All national governments should not use public health measures as an excuse to criminalize and suppress dissidents, activists, and people’s movement. Civil society must be actively involved in formulating and implementing emergency responses

We also demand for the companies, especially the transnational companies to prioritize the safety and health of the workers above profits by:

  • 1) Ensuring the highest level of implementations of necessary actions to protect workers in your global supply chain, including subsidiares and third-party suppliers.
  • 2) In the situation where the business activity may be temporarily stopped, the companies should ensure the workers are still being paid without any deduction or forced unpaid leave. Ensure paid sick leave and paid family medical leave.
  • 3) In the situation where production cannot be temporarily stopped, the workers must work fewer hours, and be rotated regularly to decrease the risk of exposure. Any policies at workplace level should in this regard should be in accordance with WHO social distancing guidelines. The companies should ensure the highest level of hygiene and OSH standards implemented in the workplace and provide the proper and effective PPE including respiratory mask and access to clean water.
  • 4) Regularly check and monitor the health conditions of the workers. The companies should ensure and facilitate workers’ access to health facilities. It is compulsory for the companies to ensure there will be no discrimination towards workers who are with or without the virus.
  • 5) Providing paid quarantine leave to all workers who have been affected by the Covid-19 virus. The company in cooperation with the national government should ensure to cover all medical costs for all workers and their families.



6 April 2020

Transnational Palm Oil Labour Solidarity (TPOLS) Network:

Trade Unions
1.      Sabah Plantations Industry Employees Union (SPIEU) (Malaysia)

2.      Food Industry Employees Union (FIEU) (Malaysia)


3.      Serikat Pekerja Nasional (SPN) Kalimantan Timur (Indonesia)

4.      Gabungan Serikat Buruh Indonesia (GSBI) (Indonesia)

5.      Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (SBMI) (Indonesia)

6.      Serikat Buruh Perkebunan Indonesia (SBPI) (Indonesia)

7.      Federasi Serikat Pekerja Minamas ASD (FSP Minamas) (Indonesia)

8.      Federasi Perjuangan Buruh Nasional (FPBN/KSN) (Indonesia)

9.      Federasi Buruh Transportasi Pelabuhan Indonesia (FBTPI) (Indonesia)

10.  Serikat Buruh Nestle, Lampung (Indonesia)

11.  Filipinas Palm Oil Workers Union (FPIWU) (Philippines)

Labour and Human Rights NGOs
1.      Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) (Hong Kong)

2.      Lembaga Informasi Perburuhan Sedane (LIPS) (Indonesia)

3.      Research Centre for Crisis and Alternative Development Strategies (Inkrispena) (Indonesia)

4.      Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) (Philippines)

5.      Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT) (Malaysia)

6.      Stiftung Asienhaus (Germany)
7.    Solidar Suisse (Switzerland)

Women’s Organisations
1.      Sabah Family Planning Association (SFPA) (Malaysia)

2.      Tenaganita (Malaysia)

3.      Solidaritas Perempuan Anging Mammiri (Indonesia)

4.      Serikat Perempuan Indonesia (SERUNI) (Indonesia)

Environmental Justice Movement
1.      Koalisi Rakyat Untuk Keadilan Perikanan (KIARA) (Indonesia)

3.      Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP) (Philippines)

3.      Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) (Indonesia)

4.      Rainforest Action Network (Indonesia)
5.   Transformasi untuk Keadilan Indonesia

Supporting Group
1.      BMBF Junior Research Group ‘Bioeconomy and Inequality, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, (Germany)



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