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'We are workers oppressed by despotic employers. Why is it we who are imprisoned?'

Posted to the IUF website 01-Feb-2006

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Suyahman, Secretary of KAHUTINDO PT Musim Mas, one of six union leaders facing prison as a result of the struggle for trade union rights at the Pelalawan palm oil plantation and refinery owned by leading Indonesian oil palm producer Musim Mas. Suyahman and union Chairperson Kimbi will be sentenced on February 3. The prosecution has called for three years' imprisonment for Kimbi and regional secretary Masry Sebayang and two years for the others.

On January 30, 2006 the 5 trade unionists on trial in the Bangkinang State Court (Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia) delivered their final statements (the sixth defendant is being tried separately). Initially charged under the Indonesian Criminal Code's notorious Article 160 ("incitement", the judicial catchall used to suppress dissent under the Suharto dictatorship), the six unionists face sentences of 2-3 years for "willful property damage" and personal injury stemming from a strike in September. For nearly one year, the union sought to negotiate the implementation of legal minimum standards for plantation workers and fair treatment for contract workers at PT Musim Mas. The company response has been the dismissal of over 700 union leaders and members, the mass eviction of union members and their families from plantation housing and the use of the police and the courts to criminalize their struggle for recognition and negotiation. The following is an edited version of the statement of Suyahman, Secretary of the PT Musim Mas Union, originally read to the court in Bahasa Indonesian.

Click here to send a message to the company demanding freedom for the Musim Mas 6!

Your Honours,

I am a worker at PT Musim Mas, in Sorek, Pelalawan district, in Estate No. IV. My position there is a security officer. I have worked at PT Musim Mas for five years, and it is my view that to this day I am still a PT Musim Mas worker, because there has been no dismissal which is legitimate or legally proper. Although, to this day I have not been afforded my rights and I don't know the situation or condition of my family.

Before the demonstration of 13 September 2005 at PT Musim Mas, there had been two previous demonstrations. The demands made in those three demonstrations were the same. The first demonstration resulted in the dismissal of 10 Musim Mas workers, amongst them the Secretary of the SP Kahutindo enterprise level union, and I do not see the official reasons given for the dismissal as relevant, because they give the impression that the workers were at fault, for indiscipline. While actually, if we examine closely at the reasons for the dismissal, it is because PT Musim Mas is anti-union. It is due to the existence of those workers who were dismissed, that the other workers, who until that point had not known anything about labour law and had been kept in ignorance by the company, began to know the rights that they should have been given.

Then on the 5 August 2005, another demonstration occurred, which resulted in a ruling from the Manpower Office on six matters, which should have been implemented by the company. The six demands were only addressed by the Pelalawan Manpower Office after its offices had been occupied by the workers for 5 days. PT Musim Mas did not even implement the Manpower Office�s ruling on these six matters.

The third demonstration occurred on 13 September 2005, which brought me to be sitting in this chair in this hearing.

We are workers oppressed by the despotic employers in our workplace. We demonstrated in order to struggle for our rights as workers, which are protected and regulated by the Manpower laws, which were not implemented by the employer. So why is it we who are imprisoned?

On that day, 13 September 2005, I took part in the demonstration at PT Musim Mas. There would be no demonstration if our rights as PT Musim Mas workers, as regulated in the Manpower laws, were respected by the employer. However, in fact the reverse occurred, many of company�s regulations and policies were wrong and violated the Manpower laws, and for this reason, we held a demonstration.

On 13 September 2005 we were making speeches in the hope that they would be heard by the PT MM management and they would respond, but our demands went unheard, like whispers in the wind. We then entered the PT Musim Mas Estate II plantation area, but our path was obstructed by the police and security. Because we did not wish for any physical confrontation to take place, and so that anarchy did not break out, we erected tents in the middle of the road [instead of heading to the refinery].

While we were all assembled, sitting and listening to the speeches by our brothers and sisters, suddenly a palm fruit truck appeared, but because the road was filled with people, the truck couldn�t enter the refinery. It appears that the management forced the truck to pass the demonstrators by driving directly into them. Because they didn�t want anybody to be hurt or hit by a truck, the demonstrators stopped the truck by blocking its path, but two people from the mass of demonstrators were injured. But this is how strange the law in Indonesia is: the person who drove the truck [into the demonstrators] hasn�t been detained, that is, the Chief of Musim Mas security, Sanusi Hasibuan. He is free from any punishment, to this day. This truly is a violation of human rights, but who knows why this matter has been pushed aside and no action taken, although it was witnessed by many, including law enforcement officers.

Then on 15 September 2005, the fence of the refinery was pushed over by the mass of many people. I reject the testimony of the witness, Mr. Goenawan [senior management representative], that I was giving a speech at the time the gate was pushed over and it was I who gave the orders. I was indeed near the fence, but I did nothing but walk between the front line of the demonstrators and the security officers, because I did not want anarchy to break out. And in fact I was pushed and crushed by the mass of people as the fence was pushed over. So I ask you, please, Your Honours, to consider and evaluate this problem objectively.

Your Honours,

I am thirty years old, and since I was born I have enjoyed the air and the atmosphere of our country in freedom, because Indonesia has been independent for sixty years. But it seems I was mistaken in my thinking and that I and maybe thousands or even millions of people in this country have not yet felt true freedom. Because here I am, in this room, accused of something which truly does not make sense to me. We, the workers, struggle against the despotism of the employers, but it is we who are confined in prison.

My heart and soul, as a human being, and a child of this nation, born and living in freedom, cannot accept this. We have been put in a place that we should not have been. We are not criminals, we are not thieves, nor robbers. We are workers oppressed by the despotic employers in our workplace. We demonstrated in order to struggle for our rights as workers, which are protected and regulated by the Manpower laws, which were not implemented by the employer. So why is it we who are imprisoned? Where is the justice, your Honour? We are ordinary people, Your Honour, who eat and live not to enrich ourselves, but we only wish to have a better life, so our families, our children can enjoy an education and fulfil their dreams. But can this be realised, Your Honour? If we, who only struggled for our rights which are clearly protected under the law, are confined in prison. I do not know what or who should be blamed, and what must be improved. Is the law and justice in this country, written and created by lawyers and this nation�s founders, not for the ordinary people and the workers, like myself? And if not, then for whom, Your Honour? Is it only for people with money? For the strong? For the powerful? Then for whom, Your Honour?

It is not my intention to insult or harass this court, I am only trying to convey what I see, hear and experience. Many of the things I have experienced in my heart I do not understand, and questions arise. Is this how the law is implemented in this country? How long will this go on? When can the law function properly, and be useful, as everybody in this country wishes?

This is no more than a defence of myself and my frustration with justice which has never been on the side of the ordinary people, the poor, and the weak, like myself.