Local people and day laborers block access to a Wilmar mill in West Kalimantan on April 1. Photo: Andi Fachrizal
Local people blocked the road to a Wilmar palm oil mill in Sungai Malaya, a village in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, demanding the release of nine day laborers who were arrested during an earlier protest over delayed wages.
As of April 1, the company’s operations were paralyzed, with trucks carrying fresh fruit bunches from nearby plantations unable to deliver their cargo. School buses and other vehicles were allowed to pass unimpeded.
The protesters threatened that if the company, a Wilmar subsidiary named Bumi Pratama Khatulistiwa, did not meet their demands by April 4, all workers would go on strike.
According to Maulana, a youth leader from Sungai Malaya, Kubu Raya regency, the case began in January when day laborers who were fed up with Bumi Pratama’s consistent failure to pay them on time rallied in front of the company’s office.
At one point during the rally, Maulana said, someone threw a stone and shattered a glass window. A security camera recorded the incident, and the police arrested nine people. But Maulana said those in custody hadn’t necessarily hurled any rocks.
He also contested official claims of a “mob attack” and accused the security forces of siding with the company. “They provoked our anger,” he said. “At the demonstration, they came at us with billy clubs and racist epithets.”
Local people also set up a blockade in May 2013 in protest of Bumi Pratama’s treatment of the environment. Photo: Andi Fachrizal
Bumi Pratama’s day laborers work four times a week and earn Rp65,000 ($5) per day. They are supposed to be paid every fortnight.
However, their salaries are often a week late, Maulana said, and meanwhile Bumi Pratama refuses to give them a break on provisions from the company store.
“Our salaries are barely enough to eat, and then they’re late in paying. That means we have to go into debt,” Maulana said. “Our patience has run out.”
Maulana called on the military and police authorities to withdraw any locally assigned officers with an interest in the Bumi Pratama concession.
Sudyono Warto, the police chief for Ambawang subdistrict, said that from the outset his people had given input to both sides. “From the beginning of the investigation to its submission to prosecutors,” he wrote in a text message. “Now the prosecutor has the authority.”
Udir, a driver who was stopped at the blockade, had come from Hilton Duta Lestari’s estate in Lendak regency. That company is owned by Sri Lanka-based Watawala Plantations.
“We don’t know why these people are angry,” Udir said. “But as soon as we entered Sungai Malaya, we were greeted by workers and locals blocking the way.”
Asked about profits and losses, Udir hesitated before giving a nervous response. “Yeah, there’ll be losses if these trucks can’t get in. These fruits will rot if we’re delayed for two days. The losses will be more than Rp20 million.”
Udir’s truck and two others were carrying more than 20 tons of fresh fruit bunches between them.
Bumi Pratama was unavailable for comment. With the blockade on, the company’s office was nearly deserted. Just a small group of people were sitting on the company’s executive mess terrace. One wore army camouflage. Others were dressed as police and security guards.
The arrested workers are Zahri bin Satuma, Martinus Ahon, Nurali, Aswar, Munir, Maryuki, Musari, Lidiun and Andre.
Produced in English by Philip Jacobson.
A Bumi Pratama plantation at the time of the protest in January that resulted in nine day laborers’ arrests. Photo: Andi Fachrizal
- Andi Fachrizal. “Sembilan Buruh Harian PT. BPK Dipenjara, Warga Protes dengan Blokir Jalan Utama Perusahaan.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 2 April 2015.