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Defend Trade Union Rights - Call for Global Solidarity with Indonesian Sugar Workers!

Posted to the IUF website 14-Oct-2005

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The government of Indonesia, private and public sugar employers and the Suharto-era yellow unions are colluding to block independent trade unions from operating effectively in the country's sizeable sugar sector. The IUF-affiliated FSPM TG, which was founded in February 2005 by twenty-four local unions from private and state-owned mills, plantations and sugar distilleries, is the target of a concerted union-busting operation. The union is fighting back, but international support is needed.

At the FSPM TG founding convention in February, Daud Sukamto was elected President. On March 14, Daud - who had announced at the convention that his local union would be leaving the SPSI (Suharto-era union) to assure its independence - was suspended from his position as union officer by officials of the regional SPSI. One week later, he was suspended from his job at Gunung Madu Plantation in Central Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia's largest sugar cane and mill complex. Gunung Madu is 45% owned by the Hong Kong-based Kuok Investment Group of billionaire Robert Kuok, with the remainder held by two companies controlled by Suharto family and cronies. Daud's sacking was a classic example of Indonesia's three-way collusion between employers, yellow unions and the government.

Elected President of the independent sugar workers' federation FSPM TG in February, Daud Sukamto was sacked from his mill job in March.

Government support is necessary to bust unions in Indonesia, because employers must request official authorization to dismiss workers. Gunung Madu Plantation management wanted Daud dismissed to weaken the union. The SPSI wanted Daud dismissed because an independent union would deprive them of their role as enforcers of labour discipline. And the government wanted Daud dismissed, because it fears trade union independence, and because the government of Indonesia is itself the owner of a number of sugar plantations and mills which form part of the PTPN agricultural complexes.

Daud's dismissal was upheld in a June 21 ruling of the Lampung P4D, the "tripartite" dispute resolution settlement committee whose only labour component is representatives of the yellow unions. The P4D ruled that Daud should be fired, effective at the end of June, for having committed "gross misconduct" in advising Gunung Madu workers in January to reject management's proposal for the biannual wage increase. The P4D ignored a ruling by the country's Constitutional Court that the law permitting dismissal on these grounds was unconstitutional and required amendment. It ignored testimony that workers at the plantation had almost unanimously rejected the increase as inadequate and needed no particular "incitement" from the union, just as it ignored the fact that under pressure from the plantation's private security service the union had quickly withdrawn its initial recommendation to reject the increase. It likewise ignored an earlier statement to the FSPM that the "gross misconduct" charge lay outside its jurisdiction and was a matter that the employer could only pursue in a criminal court proceeding. The P4D also accepted the employers' allegation that Daud's involvement with the IUF showed further evidence of "gross misconduct". It simply rubberstamped the dismissal, as it has always done.

No P4D decision to dismiss workers at the employer's request has ever been overturned through the appeals process.

Harassment continued with management and yellow-union pressure on the local unions at the PTPN X complex to resign from their membership in the FSPM TG federation. Mill workers at PTPN X have reconstituted their locals as members of the federation, so the local Department of Manpower is now attempting to attack the federation's legal status by challenging its February registration with the authorities. Although the union applied for and received at that time full legal registration as a legitimate trade union meeting all the legal requirements, the local Manpower office, in collusion with the yellow unions, now claims that the federation's status has been "deferred" - which means, for example, that it cannot seek to take part in collective bargaining with employers.

On October 5, Indonesia's Manpower Minister, writing in response to the federation's complaint that the retroactive "deferral" of their legal status was in violation of the law, ignored the fact that the union had already been legally registered and informed FSPM TG General Secretary Legimin that the union would have to register again (a completely arbitrary and illegal proposition) in order to be legally recognized. And he instructed the General Secretary to "withdraw immediately" the complaint against the government of Indonesia which the IUF has lodged in response to government complicity in union-busting!

The union is contesting this latest government chicanery over the registration issue, and the IUF has now sent to the ILO the Manpower Minister's October 5 letter as additional material to the complaint. The ILO process however is slow. The union will resume its protest actions in Jakarta in mid-November, when the crushing season is over. But it cannot represent its thousands of members in collective bargaining until management pressure and legal harassment cease. And the union and its members are firm in their demand for the reinstatement of their illegally sacked President.

FSPM TG members demonstrating in August at the Jakarta office of PT Gunung Madu Plantation, Indonesia's largest sugar cane and mill complex. Their action was joined by members of the IUF-affiliated hotel and tourism workers federation and supported by IUF affiliates in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the USA.

Indonesian sugar workers want and need independent and democratic unions to defend their interests and secure the industry's future. Over two million people in Java alone depend on sugar for a livelihood. The sugar workers' struggle for their rights is at a critical stage, and international support is urgently needed.

You can show support by telling the government of Indonesia to act now to

  • Reinstate Daud Sukamto at his job at Gunung Madu

  • Cease all harassment of the FSPM TG and immediately recognize its legal status as a registered trade union!

  • Respect the democratic right of all Indonesian workers to join the trade union of their choice and to bargain collectively without intimidation!

Click here to send a message to Indonesia's President, Manpower Minister, Minister of State-Owned enterprises and the General Manager of the Gunung Madu Plantation. Copies of your message will be automatically sent to the sugar workers' federation and to the IUF secretariat.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.