Tue, 28 Jan 2003

Government plantations in violation of national labor laws

Apriadi Gunawan and Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Several state-owned palm oil plantations in North Sumatra have employed tens of thousands of workers for years below the minimum wage and without the social security programs.

The workers have many times held demonstrations in an attempt to get the attention of the provincial authorities, but no action has been taken against the companies for any possible violation of the rulings on the minimum wage and the social security programs.

Jaiman, 54, who has been employed for almost 35 years at the state-owned palm oil plantation PTPN II in Tanjongmorawa, 12 kilometers south of Medan, said since January 2002 he had been paid Rp 350,000 monthly and it was far from enough to support his family of eight.

"I have two children at a public junior high school while the four others have been employed as temporary workers with the company. My wife sells basic commodities at the local market to help my family survive the economic hardships of daily life," he said in his house provided by the company at the plantation on Monday.

Jaiman expressed his deep concern over the poor labor conditions at the plantation, saying none of the low-income workers were able to improve their social welfare under the current conditions.

"Thousands of workers will remain poor, both economically and intellectually because under the current remuneration system, they are unable to live a better life and to send their children to university in attempt to make changes in their life," he said.

Jaiman cited the monthly minimum wage in the province for the 2003 fiscal year, which has been set at Rp 505,000 per month, an increase of some 7 percent from Rp 464,000 in 2002, but thousands of workers still did not even receive that.

He also questioned the management's policies, as they had not yet registered a large portion of the workers in the compulsory social security program.

Jaiman, also active with the company's labor union, said the workers went on strike last year to protest the company's violations of the labor regulations, "but, no action has so far been taken against the management."

Indro, another employee, concurred and said that a majority of lower ranking employees at the plantation were not registered with the social security program. "We are jealous of the middle and high ranking staff who are registered in the benefit program. They are allowed to visit their own doctor (and get reimbursed by the company), but we have only the company's clinic. We cannot get a referral from the clinic if we need to visit a specialist."

The chairman of the labor union at the plantation (SP BUN), Serta Ginting, said the labor union in the province had filed a law suit against those companies who were still refusing to pay some of their workers the legal minimum wage and had not registered them in the social security programs.

He said that of the more than 100,000 workers employed in four state-owned palm oil plantations in the province, 40,000, or some 40 percent, had yet to be registered for the company benefits package.

"According to Law No. 3/1992, the social security programs are compulsory and the workers have a right to get protection, both from the government and their management," he said, adding that many companies in the province had declined to register all their workers in an attempt to avoid paying more premiums to PT Jamsostek, the state-owned company in charge of all company social security/benefits programs.

The PTPN II personnel and administrative affairs manager, Arifin Bakia, conceded that his company had violated the labor regulations but said the company had provided housing and medical allowances to all workers as compensation for the lower wages.

"Our company is facing a serious financial crisis so we cannot comply with all these labor regulations to help improve workers' social welfare," he admitted, adding that he had reported the company's problems to the local manpower and transmigration office.

The chairman of Jamsostek's regional office in North Sumatra, Haris Albert Tampubolon, said Jamsostek had no authority to enforce the labor regulation because it was not a government office.

"The local manpower and ministry office should take actions against companies violating the labor laws," he said, while adding that he had requested that local authorities enforce the regulations.

Thoga Sitorus, chief of the local manpower and transmigration office, said his office and Jamsostek were still evaluating the participation rates of local employees to be insured in the national program.

The social security programs were necessary to provide protection for workers if they became sick or injured on the job, he said.