Labour rights are becoming a global issue, and new regulations across the globe are placing a greater emphasis on ensuring worker rights are safeguarded across supply chains. Indonesia’s palm oil sector has for the past several years collaborated consistently with Indonesian workers and government, and international organisations to advance worker rights in the sector.

Collaboration with the ILO and US Department of State

The US-ILO joint program “Advancing Workers’ Rights in Indonesia and Malaysia’s Palm Oil Sector” concludes at the end of 2023. This ambitious project has aimed to empower Indonesian unions and workers, enhancing their access to fundamental rights and fostering better working conditions.

Coordinated by Yunirwan Gah in Indonesia, the initiative builds on previous ILO work in the sector and targets various sub-sectors including plantations, crude palm oil factories, and the broader food and beverage industry.

A two-pronged strategy underpins the project. The first component focuses on institutional development, aiming to enhance the rural labor market’s functioning by improving the capacity of the government and stakeholders. The second aspect provides direct support to promote productive employment at the enterprise and plantation level, with a keen focus on addressing the needs of youth and women.

The project has positively impacted at least 20,000 workers in Indonesia’s palm oil supply chain. Special attention is being paid to the conditions of women workers, who are crucial to plantation labor yet often underrepresented in decision-making processes.

Key partners in this initiative include the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs, various trade union confederations and federations, the Indonesia Trade Union Networks in Palm Oil, the Indonesia Employers’ Association (APINDO), and the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI).

Joint Declaration Between GAPKI and JAPBUSI

At the beginning of 2023 the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) and the Indonesian Trade Union Network for Palm Oil (JAPBUSI) signed a Joint Declaration to promote social dialogue for sustainable palm oil. This landmark agreement, endorsed by GAPKI head Joko Supriyono and JAPBUSI Executive Secretary Nursanna Marpaung, along with ten trade union federations, aims to address: decent work deficits, enhance labor compliance, and improve the sector’s image.

Key focus areas include effective workplace cooperation, respect for workers’ rights, particularly in freedom of association and collective bargaining, resolving disputes through dialogue, better representation of women workers, and capacity building at national and international levels. The ILO in Indonesia, praised this initiative as a critical step towards sustainable development in the palm oil industry, emphasizing its role in creating decent jobs and promoting a better investment climate.

New Collective Bargaining Agreements

In October, with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO) new Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) were signed in 31 palm oil companies across Sumatra and Kalimantan, which account for 96% of the nation’s palm oil production. These CBAs, benefiting over 20,000 workers, symbolize a concerted effort by companies and trade unions to improve working conditions, ensure labor law compliance, and enhance the industry’s reputation.

The agreements cover vital labor rights and issues, including maternity rights, protection against workplace discrimination, union representation in health and safety committees, and freedom of association. They also address the provision of personal protective equipment and the development of an enterprise-based wage structure. The JAPBUSI network, comprising ten trade union federations, has been instrumental in facilitating these agreements through extensive training programs for local union leaders and members.

These CBAs are seen as a significant step in addressing previous allegations of poor working conditions in the sector. They reflect a mutual commitment to enhancing labor-management cooperation, particularly in promoting freedom of association and collective bargaining, fundamental rights at work.

Protecting Migrant Workers

In October a training workshop was conducted in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, from 17-18 October, focusing on migrant palm oil workers seeking employment offshore. This initiative is part of a joint effort by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to enhance the protection of Indonesian migrant workers’ labor rights. The workshop, attended by 25 prospective migrant workers, aimed to gather crucial data and insights about the challenges and trends faced during the pre-departure phase.

Participants, including 24 men and one woman, actively contributed to refining the contents of pre-departure training modules and other educational materials. These resources, developed to improve the knowledge and preparedness of potential migrant workers regarding their labor rights and working conditions abroad, will be utilized by various organizations, including the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency (BP2MI), labor inspectors, and trade unions.