When the oil palm plantation companies first arrive in the villages they promise jobs for indigenous Papuans, an effort to implant dreams of improved economic well-being and higher incomes. Once work starts however, the promises aren’t followed through and the imagined changes never come about. Meanwhile, the land and forest which used to provide the community livelihood disappears and control over the land passes to the companies.
This is the experience of indigenous Papuans who live near oil palm plantation companies. Coercive means are used to take their land and then the people have no other choice than to become labourers for the oil palm companies.
Marta Kandam (19 years old) a Papuan woman who lives in Gententiri village, Jair sub-district, Boven Digoel, told of her experiences before and after the arrival of an oil palm company.
“The economy of the community in Getentiri before the company arrived was based on rubber-tapping and our forest gardens. We used to sell the rubber to Pastor Keis. Our monthly income could be as much as 2.5 or even 3 million Rupiah,” she related.
The majority of peoples living along the Boven Digoel river have rubber farms and are dependant on that commodity as their main source of income. According to the head of the agriculture and plantation agency in Boven Digoel, Martinus Wagi, up to 6,000 hectares has been planted with rubber by the local population.
When the oil palm plantation PT Tunas Sawa Erma arrived in Gententiri, Jair sub-district and Ujung Kia, Kia sub-district, they felled and cleared natural forest, sago groves, rubber farms and plantations of fruit trees, which were replaced with oil palm plantation and company infrastructure.
“We stopped tapping rubber and went to work for the company, as unskilled plantation labour. We get paid for every day we work, but it still works out as less than before the company came. After we started working for the company, even if we work really hard, the monthly wage is only one and a half million Rupiah, or a bit less, no more than that”, Marta said, who has been working as a plantation labourer.
“We thought it would get better when the company arrived, but it got worse, even though we work every day, the company counts the days, but our pay is less than before the company came”, Marta said.
According to her, before the company came, people could tap the rubber when they felt like it and they had time to rest, but their monthly income was better than the income of company workers who work every day.
Paulus Saku, a clan chief and former customary landowner, has had difficulties finding work with the company.
“We’ve asked the company to give us work several times, but the company just keeps telling me ‘where do you expect us to get the money to pay you with’ “, he said.
However, Paulus has seen how workers who come from outside Papua are quickly accepted by the company, and there are more of them then there are indigenous Papuans. A similar discrimination towards Papuan workers has been the experience of indigenous people living in Anggai village, Jair sub-district, where the oil palm company PT Megakarya Jaya Raya is operating.
“For us as indigenous Papuans, if we want to work for the company we have to pass through several steps and meet various conditions, such as bringing a letter from the village head, from the clan chief, school certificates and identity card, and only then will the HR department take you on, but for non-Papuans, if you arrive at the plantation one day, you’ll be working the next”, said Stevanus Mianggi, a worker for PT MJR.
Plantation labourers there also complained about the low level of pay, an average of 1.5 million Rupiah per month, which is below the regional minimal wage for Papua province and doesn’t come close to providing an acceptable standard of living, based on prices locally.