The Confines of The Suffering of Women Workers in Oil Palm Plantations

The Confines of The Suffering of Women Workers in Oil Palm Plantations

Travel Notes of R. Andreas


The time showed 08.30 A.M, the journey crossed the smooth asphalted Trans Kalimantan road. Yes, little by little some of them are starting to break down with age. From the provincial capital of West Kalimantan to Ketapang Regency, to saw the beauty of Ale-Ale City (Ketapang’s special food). My trip was using a bike at standard speed, so I can enjoy the journey to the city of Ketapang. Approximately 490 km from Pontianak and takes about 8 to 9 hours of travel. To get to Ketapang by land, we will pass through two districts, which are Kubu Raya and Sanggau Regency. 15 years ago to get to the city of Ketapang, it took us days and even had to walk because the condition of the road infrastructure was still dirt and muddy during the rainy season, whereas during the dry season the soil was will be dusty.


It’s time for a break so I stopped. At 12.45 P.M I arrived and rested at a friend’s house on the border of Sanggau and Ketapang.


“How come the river water is getting murkier, bro?”, I asked.


He replied that some of the forest upstream had been cleared by mining companies and oil palm plantations. It’s a shame, the water that used to be clear is now cloudy and the temperature in the village that used to be cool is now hot even though it’s the rainy season.


From my friend’s house, I went for a while intending to find a shop to buy cigarettes that had run out on the road. Arriving at the stall, I met the women who bought ice water. I politely excused myself to the women to buy things and worked up the courage to ask.


“Where do you come from?” I ask.


“Coming home from work at the oil palm plantation.” she replied.


“Oh.” I answered again.


In my mind, it’s no wonder their faces were full of fatigue, but still these women tried to cover up the tiredness that showed on their faces with smiles.

Seeing the looks of exhaustion on the faces of these women, I, who had wanted to go straight to a friend’s house, for some reason returned to ask these women with several questions.


“What time do you work, what time do you go to the plantation and what are you wearing when you come back from the plantation?”


“We leave the house at 5 A.M, because before work we have to call in the morning, get fingerprinted and then go to work. So at 6 A.M you have to be in place because you usually have to work. 7 o’clock.”


“I went to the plantation with my husband, because my husband also works at the company’s oil palm plantation.”


“What department do you work in?” I asked again


“Some are in charge of cultivating, caring for, nursery and some are doing multiple job.”


Suddenly a woman appears on a sports motorbike with the appearance of a touring motorbike rider wearing a standard helmet, black leather jacket, boots and half leather gloves. After parking the motorbike, this woman greeted the other women workers in a fairly firm but even voice. Her greeting was greeted by other women with smiles and jokes. Just call her Mrs. Daun (not her real name). She suddenly asked,


“Who are you, where are you from and where are you going?”


I answered what was asked. Then I also said earlier that I asked these women about jobs and other things. Hearing my answer with a sharp look, she also said that this company was named PT. Aditya Agroindo, EHP Group also said that it belonged to Asian Agri, I don’t know what she said was true.


Still glaring at me, she asked again


“Are you a police officer?”


“No, I’m just an ordinary man, who wanted to go to Ketapang, came home, stopped briefly at my friend’s house at the end of the road, because I ran out of cigarettes I went to this shop and bought it.” I answered with smile.


She was still looking at me intently. However, from the look in her eyes and the expression on her face, one could see her deep anger, sadness, and trauma, I thought, by my limited knowledge of the psychology of judging people.

I put out one burned cigarette. With a sharp gaze and watching me, suddenly Mrs. Daun said,


“The company is not good, we are women workers who have worked long enough, I myself have worked for more than 6 years, this woman has worked longer than me. However, our status is still daily workers, even though we work sedentary.”


“Our rights as workers are often ignored or even not given by companies just because we are daily workers. Even if a work accident occurs, the company does not care about the workers who experience it. Even worse, workers have to pay for their own treatment.”


“That’s Mrs. Aby, working for more than 8 years with daily worker status and working 2 years doing a work, then being transferred to another place, 2 years or 3 years being moved again to another place. Even now she is doing multiple jobs such as fertilizer, treatment, picking the palm fruit (brondol), haul the fertilizer, everything must be done if it orders from the foreman and the plantation assistant.” Mrs. Daun said to me furiously.


“My husband and me also had a work accident. When reporting to the company it was complicated and blamed, as if my husband was at fault. Even though at that time my husband was carrying palm fruit after harvesting along a wooden path, suddenly the wooden bridge broke and my husband’s chin was hit by a piece of wood, so he broke his chin which made my husband faint and was seriously injured, but the company didn’t care. When we reported it, they said it was our fault for not checking the wooden bridge first.” Mrs. Aby’s story continues what Mrs. Daun said.


Mrs. Daun continued her story with the problem she was experiencing. Before telling her story he took a deep breath and then continued her story.


“I don’t know you, but I want to tell you how we suffer as women workers in PT. Aditya Agroindo plantation, for us to be relieved and hope God gives you strength, to be able to retell what we convey to anyone, because we don’t understand the rules, we don’t know the law and there are among us women workers who can’t even read and write. That also makes us afraid to talk to other people, for some reason we want to discuss this with you.” said Mrs. Daun.


With teary eyes filled with sadness and anger, Mrs. Daun started her story,


“I have worked for this company for over 6 years. And after 6 years of work, my husband and I are still considered by the company as daily labourers. Once in October 2018 I was in a state of late pregnancy and was about to give birth. I’m still working because my status is still daily labour, I have to work first to pay for childbirth. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t be able to pay extra for the childbirth. If we ask for maternity leave, the company will not pay us our entitlements or wages. So I was forced to work and so was my husband. When I was about to go to work, my stomach already felt nauseous. After a while the pain got stronger, because maybe it was time to give birth. My husband and I headed to the office to borrow an ambulance to take me to the hospital or public health center at Balai Bekuak. However, the response from the company’s management was complicated. There has to be permissions from one and others department. While one part of my child’s left hand has come out. With great pain, I said to my husband, we should borrow or rent someone’s car. Because the pain was unbearable and my baby’s left hand was out, I pressed my thighs and legs. Arriving at the rented car, we went straight to the health center at Balai Bekuak, around 10 P.M we arrived. Just 2 minutes arrived, I was put on the bed and taken to the ward, my baby came out right away. But apparently, my baby had died. My baby is dead, sir.”


With tears in her eyes and holding back her feelings, Mrs. Daun continued her story.


“After that incident, the company didn’t care or take responsibility. Even one week after giving birth I was asked by the company to return to work. We have to pay ourselves all the costs we incurred, no attention or assistance from the company. It’s been 4 years since this incident, sir, and I still remember it well, because of the injuries and wickedness of PT. Aditya to me, until my child died at birth. I believe this is God’s will, but what I can’t accept is that the management of the company is so cruel to us and other women workers.”


Looking down because I couldn’t bear to listen to her story and seeing Mrs. Daun’s eyes filled with tears, I tried to hold back my anger over this incident. In my heart I asked, why this company so evil, and why is no one defending this mother and why is it only today that I got this very sad story. While praying to God to be given the strength to be able to help them.


“Ma’am, sorry to ask, have you conveyed or reported this to the Ketapang District Manpower Office or to the labor supervisory board?” I ask


“I didn’t tell it.” she replied.


“I didn’t tell it, because I don’t know how the way I tell it. When we report it to the Manpower Office, they don’t necessarily respond. Precisely later my husband and I will be laid off by the company, that’s what us are afraid of.” she continued


“Is there a labor union here, ma’am? As far as I know, if there is a trade union, the main task is to defend and fight for workers’ rights.” I asked again.


“Yes sir, but our union is new, and it’s been almost 3 months since we submitted our registration documents, it has not received confirmation from the Ketapang Regency Government. Even though as far as I know all the requirements have been met and these conditions have been sent by the union officials to the Ketapang Regency Manpower Office. But still, until now they have not issued a certificate of union registration. We don’t even know where to report anymore, sir, with so many labor problems in this company.” she closed.


With a heavy heart, I also say thanks to the women workers who have been willing to share their bitter stories about oppression and the company’s abuse of workers, especially women workers. What else happened to Mrs. Daun who had to lose her child, because of the company’s arbitrariness. After saying goodbye, I headed to a friend’s house where my motorbike was parked and where I rested to unwind from the journey. The story of Mrs. Daun stuck in my memory, with the question I asked myself, what should be done to help the women working in the oil palm plantations at PT. Aditya Agroindo.


When I arrived at a friend’s house.


“Hey, you really took a long time to buy cigarettes.” shouted friends from inside the house.


I go to inside while smoking a cigarette, and not forgetting to sip cold black coffee without sugar. I said that earlier I listened to the complaints of women oil palm plantation workers who work at PT. Aditya. Because of the many problems, the company management of PT. Aditya ignores the rights of workers/labourers, there are even indications of violating human rights.


“I will mention them one by one, and please write them down in case there is anything we can help, moreover we are sons of West Kalimantan.”


My friends hurriedly took books and paper to record the problem of neglecting labor rights in the oil palm plantation of PT. Aditya.


“Worker status, they are still casual daily labourers, women say they have worked for more than 5 years, and work permanently.”


“There were work accidents, the company did not take responsibility or facilitate treatment and so on, even blaming workers who had work accidents.”


“There are still workers who are not registered with Health Insurance (BPJS Kesehatan) because of the status of casual daily workers, according to the National Health Law and the Manpower Law companies are required to register, regardless of the status of casual daily workers or permanent workers.”


“Women workers don’t get menstruation leave, maternity leave and after giving birth with the excuse of casual daily workers.”


“There are no periodic health checks for workers, meaning that Occupational Safety and Health in the company does not work or does not exist, for example Rinsing Houses for fertilizing workers who come into contact with chemicals are left alone.”


“There is no payment of severance pay, work services etc. for workers who are laid off or who resign due to illness or old age.”


“Workers who get sick while working at PT. Aditya is not taken care of by the company, instead medical expenses are borne by the workers without any help from the company.”


“This is very inhumane, the female worker, Mrs. Daun is still working when she is about to give birth, because she needs maternity funds. When you are about to give birth, ambulance facilities are not loaned to take you to the nearest hospital or health center. So that Mrs. Daun and her husband had to rent a car, and what happened was because of the slow handling of the mother, the baby’s left hand in the stomach had come out first and when he arrived at the Balai Bekuak Health Center, the baby was dead when he was born. And, about 1 week, Mrs. Daun was asked to work again by the company management, PT. Aditya.”


“Now they are building a workers’ union, but the Ketapang Regency Government has blocked them and until now they have not issued a registration number with the Manpower Office. It was stated earlier that they had sent the complete registration requirements documents, it has been 3 months now and there has been no response from the Manpower Office Ketapang, this could be an indication of Union Busting being carried out by the Ketapang Manpower Office and violating Law Number 21 of 2000 concerning Worker/Labor Unions.”


“What do you think, after hearing and taking notes on what I said, a short conversation with the workers of the oil palm plantation company PT. Aditya. We cannot remain silent with this condition. When I was about to go home, it occurred to me to postpone going to Balai Semandang. I will try to help the workers here to fight for their rights, so that their rights are fulfilled and the company can make improvements and be held accountable for any violations committed.”


“Care to join?” I asked then to end this story.


Ketapang, December 4th, 2022

R. Andreas

1 Comment
  • Sendy
    Posted at 16:14h, 09 December Reply

    my tears falling down while reading this story.. but still can not doing anything.

    forgive me bu Daun and all women in this industry 😢

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