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Justice for Indonesian Palm Oil Workers - Free the Musim Mas Six!

Posted to the IUF website 23-Jan-2006

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Robin Kimbi, Chairperson of the KAHUTINDO PT Musim Mas Union, in the Bangkinang Court holding cell just prior to being transported back to Bangkinang Prison where he and four other union officers have been detained since 15 September and a sixth union officer has been detained since 18 October.

The IUF is appealing for urgent action in response to serious violations of fundamental rights at the huge PT Musim Mas oil palm plantation and processing plant in Pelalawan, Riau Province in Sumatra, owned by the Musim Mas Group.

Workers at PT Musim Mas in Pelalawan first formed an independent union in October 2004, with 150 members, quickly growing to 1,183 out of a total work force of 2,000 (including 300 contract workers). Their union KAHUTINDO PT Musim Mas is the single palm oil workers union within the forestry and woodworkers union SP KAHUTINDO. SP KAHUTINDO is affiliated internationally to the Building and Wood Workers (International (BWI) with whom the IUF is working to oppose the massive repression which is being used to try and crush palm oil workers' struggle for basic rights.

Musim Mas, headquartered in Medan, operates the world's largest palm oil refinery, processing not only its own production but the output of other Indonesian palm oil producers. Musim Mas accounts for some 20% of Indonesia's total exports of palm oil. Musim Mas-refined products are present virtually throughout the production chains of the leading agrofood and consumer product TNCs.

Musim Mas is a prominent member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the organization which "promotes sustainable palm oil production and use through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue with its stakeholders." Leading commodity processors/traders and food TNCs, along with some retailers are among the "stakeholders" in this project, whose Executive Board President is the coordinator for Unilever's "sustainable agriculture" program. A number of high-profile environmental and social/developmental advocacy groups are also RSPO members

Since the union was officially registered in December 2004, the union has sought to negotiate the implementation of the minimum standards guaranteed Indonesian workers under national legislation and an end to the ruthless exploitation of contract plantation workers. The company refused to negotiate. When the union again raised its concerns with Musim Mas management and the local Department of Manpower in February 2005, 4 union officers were dismissed, including union chairperson Robin Kimbi, and 5 others were forced to resign their positions. The local authorities and the provincial "tripartite" Central Committee for the Settlement of labour Disputes (P4P), as they have consistently done, rubberstamped the dismissals.

Further calls for negotiation and brief strike actions failed to bring management into discussions on the implementation of minimum legal standards. Management's only response was to establish a company union and issue fake membership cards which included the names of members of KAHUTINDO PT Musim Mas, a manoeuvre which union members publicly denounced.

On 8 September 2005, the union reiterated its basic demands to management (reinstatement of dismissed union chairperson Kimbi, implementation of minimum legal standards, fair treatment for contract workers) and announced its intention to strike if these were not met by September 20. When Musim Mas management still refused to negotiate and instead arranged with the local authorities for new workers to be recruited to replace union members the union brought the strike date forward to September 13. On the morning of the 13th, three trucks transported over 100 replacement workers into the plantation and refinery in a clear demonstration of the company's determination to bust the union.

On 14 September, a company truck drove into the picket line, injuring two union members who required hospitalisation. Angered and deeply frustrated by this aggressive response by the management and outright collusion between PT Musim Mas and local authorities, dozens of union members spontaneously pulled down the factory gate to protest company's refusal to even acknowledge the unionís demands. Using this damage to company property as an excuse to repress the strike and smash the union, police arrested six union officers.

On September 22, while the six union officers were detained in Bangkinang Prison, PT Musim Mas management dismissed 701 union members. The mass dismissals were again rubberstamped by the authorities. On December 26 the management deployed heavily armed police and soldiers to forcibly evict them and over 1000 family members from plantation estate housing . Children of the evicted workers were publicly humiliated and evicted from the estate schools.

The six union officers face up to five years and six months imprisonment. The prosecution has already made its case; the defense case opened on January 17. A decision is expected by mid -February. Given the endemic corruption for which the Indonesian legal system is notorious, we anticipate that the case will have to go to the provincial appeal court and possibly to the Supreme Court. We will keep affiliates informed of developments through circulars and the IUF website.

As the first step in a global campaign to support the union, whose members continue to daily show their support for the jailed union leaders, we ask for your immediate assistance to put pressure on the company. Please send a message to Musim Mas corporate headquarters by clicking here. Copies will be automatically forwarded to the secretariat of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and to the IUF secretariat. We will forward all messages to the union.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.