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Indonesian Government Must Listen to the United Nations: Stop Attacks on Sugar Union!

Posted to the IUF website 16-Jun-2006

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The United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) has issued an unambiguous message to the government of Indonesia. The authorities, says the ILO, must take immediate action to rectify illegal anti-union measures taken by private and public sugar employers against the IUF-affiliated FSPM TG, beginning with the immediate reinstatement of the union's illegally dismissed president Daud Dukamto.

The FSPM TG was established in February last year as a federation of unions from private and state-owned mills, plantations and sugar distilleries. Daud Sukamto, who headed the local union at Gunung Madu Plantation in Sumatra, was elected FSPM TG President at the federation's founding convention. On March 14, he announced that his local union would leave the SPSI, the union established under the military dictatorship. Shortly thereafter, he was suspended from his job, then formally sacked with government authorization on June 21 when his dismissal appeal was rejected. Immediately after being fired, he was evicted from the home provided for him and his family by Gunung Madu Plantations. Since then he has been living with his family in a one-room dwelling and has suffered three major heart attacks. Gunung Madu, the country's largest sugar enterprise, is 45% owned by the Hong Kong-based Kuok Investment Group of billionaire Robert Kuok. The remaining shares are held by Suharto family and cronies. His sacking was a classic example of Indonesia's three-way collusion between emloyers, 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.

The reason for his dismissal? According to the company, Daud had committed "gross misconduct" in recommending that union members reject a management proposal in January as part of the biannual CBA negotiations. The administrative decision authorizing his dismissal accepted this claim and ignored a well-known ruling by the country's Constitution court that the law permitting dismissals on these grounds was unconstitutional and required amendment.

The union fought back with protest actions and demonstrations, backed by international support from IUF affiliates around the world. The IUF filed a complaint against the government of Indonesia with the Freedom of Association Committee of the ILO. However, union-busting did not stop with Daud's dismissal.

Harassment continued with management and yellow-union pressure on the local unions at the state-owned PTPN X and XI complexes. The authorities attempted to retroactively nullify the federation's legal registration. The yellow unions issued increasingly strident written threats to commit violence against FSPM leaders and the IUF, privately at first, then publicly. When the authorities refused to respond - privately informing the IUF that open threats of violence against union leaders were "no big deal" - the IUF alerted the ILO. The IUF demanded protection for the threatened IUF and FSPM TG representatives and prosecution of the officials who had threatened them (and copied their threats to the Manpower Minister!). There was no official response.

The federation and the local unions have not bowed to pressure; they continue to organize sugar workers, but face new forms of victimization and intimidation. At Gempolkrep Sugar Mill, police were called in by management and posted in and outside the mill to intimidate union members in the lead-up to the milling season. At this mill and at least two others, seasonal workers who took part in the March 13 demonstration for union rights in Surabaya were not summoned to report for work once the milling season got underway. Union officers have been transferred to remote workplaces far from their local members. Management and yellow unions regularly denounce the FSPM TG. Management at a PTPN XI mill ordered workers to swear a religious oath not to join the FSPM-TG affiliated union at the enterprise and pleading allegiance to company policy (and property).

FSMP TG sugar workers rally at the East Java Provincial Parliament in Surabaya on March 13, joined by IUF hotel workers. Some of the sugar workers who took part have not been called back to work.

At this year's June session of the ILO's International Labour Conference, the Committee on Freedom of Association delivered a clear decision in response to the IUF complaint (the full decision is available on the ILO's website by clicking here). The Committee upheld the IUF's charges on all counts, and issued the following recommendations:

  • The Committee requests the Government to take the necessary measures to reinstate Mr. Sukamto in his employment without loss of wages and benefits and to keep it informed in this respect.

  • The Committee requests the Government to review section 158(1)(f) of the Manpower Act of 2003 in the light of the judgement of the Constitutional Court in this respect and to take all necessary measures to ensure that the term �gross misconduct� is not interpreted so as to include legitimate trade union activities.

  • The Committee strongly urges the Government to conduct an independent investigation without delay into the allegations of harassment, threats and defamatory statements with a view to fully clarifying the facts, determining criminal responsibility, if any, punishing those responsible and preventing the repetition of such acts. It requests the Government to keep it informed in this respect.

The FSPM TG and IUF Indonesia are preparing new actions and demonstrations to highlight the continuing attacks on independent sugar unions. They are demanding that the government act vigorously and swiftly to reinstate Daud and fully implement the ILO's decision.

Your support is urgently needed. Defend the FSPM TG and the right of Indonesian sugar workers to build independent, democratic unions to defend their livelihoods and the future of the industry! Send a message to the government of Indonesia, calling for Daud Sukamto's immediate reinstatement with full back pay and implementation in full of the ILO decision and recommendations. Copies of your messages will automatically be sent to the FSPM TG and to the IUF.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support