Indonesia: Sugar Workers Forge Independent Federation

“We are one – one aim, one hope, one heart – towards unity”. These words (part of a new song written by the IUF Indonesia Office for the occasion) were sung in celebration by more than one hundred assembled delegates and observers to begin the truly historic inaugural convention of the Federation of Independent Tobacco, Cane and Sugar Workers’ Unions, held on 22-23 February in rural East Java, heartland of the Indonesian sugar industry.

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    Sugar Workers in Indonesia Forge Independent Federation, Seek Industry Revitalisation
    The convention established the first independent organisation representing sugar workers in Indonesia in over 40 years. Also, to our knowledge, the new federation is the first union in the agriculture sector which brings together workers from the private and public sectors (more than half of Indonesia’s sugar mills are state-owned).
    The Federation also incorporates workers from the tobacco sector and other enterprises which are associated within the state-owned plantation system prevalent in Indonesia. The Federation begins with a dues-paying membership of 14,500.
    Delegates to the founding convention passed a number of resolutions. These resolutions covered the following issues:
    – a call for the protection and revitalistion of the Indonesian sugar industry through investment, fair wages and industry development;
    – a call for the development of formalised mechanisms and bodies for consultation between companies, cane farmers and workers which can resolve conflict within in the industry, for example, around the issue of cane quality and prices paid to cane farmers;
    – a call for the diversification of cane-based enterprises;
    – a call for the protection and improvement of pension plans for workers in the sugar sector;
    – a call to increase knowledge among Federation members on developments in world sugar and tobacco trade within the WTO and regional trade blocs;
    – the establishment of a women’s committee and the creation of a reserved seat on the executive committee for a women’s committee representative;
    – a recognition that sugar workers outside the Federation remain divided along private and public lines and that this weakens the bargaining position of unions within the sector as a whole. Further, sugar workers are frequently denied the right to freedom of association and the Federation is committed to organising these workers as a priority and to defending freedom of association rights.
    Representatives of sugar workers from the IUF-affiliated Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) were present at the founding convention and were able to convey the solidarity of sugar workers in Australia. Messages of solidarity were received from IUF affiliates representing sugar workers in Fiji, India, Jamaica, Great Britain and Pakistan.

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