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Indonesia: Helping workers through TikTok

Reaching workers on remote palm oil plantations of Kalimantan

Mjunaedigaol TikTok helping palm oil workers

“Dear friends, we have a question about how to calculate the severance pay for a worker who has worked for 25 years.”

This was the introduction of a short video by Junaedi Lumban Gao which was streamed on 7 November 2023. It was watched by 553,400 viewers, a huge audience, even for Indonesia, a country of more than 270 million people.

Junaedi, a labour lawyer who has been driven by a strong desire to protect workers rights for more than 20 years, is a member of the Hukatan trade union in Indonesia. His work has shown him that reaching workers in the remote areas of Kapuas and Central Kalimantan is very difficult. He used to post on Facebook, but had very limited reach as few palm oil workers have Facebook. This led him to explore alternative methods of communication, and ultimately to him using TikTok as an outreach tool.

“I feel blessed that some of my videos have been watched by more than 500,000 viewers. The viewers have told me (online) that my videos are good and useful,” says Junaedi, labour lawyer and activist since 2012. Junaedi currently holds two positions in Hukatan: Chairperson in Kapuas and Area Coordinator (Korda) for Hukatan Central Kalimantan.

How has TikTok changed the way you engage with workers and address their concerns?

“Through my account, I can directly address their questions and concerns in real-time and reach a vast audience that was previously inaccessible. The platform's simplicity and accessibility have made it incredibly effective in disseminating information about complex issues such as severance pay and employment contracts.

The content of the live videos generally consists of providing answers based on questions from the ‘comments’ section. There have been large numbers of viewers on the topics of severance pay and employment contracts. One viewer asked, ‘What is the maximum duration of daily work in the palm oil sector?’ Another of the videos, showing Junaedi's speech during a strike by Hukatan at the Murung Raya palm oil plantation, has reached more than 180,000 viewers.”

Indonesia Palm Oil worker

Can you share a specific example of how your TikTok videos impacts workers' lives?

Calculating severance pay in Indonesia is complex. The amount of money workers receive depends not only on how long they have worked, but also on the reasons for their dismissal and the type of contract they have. Employment status remains one of the key issues in the palm oil sector. The Job Creation Law has extended the length of time for contract workers to become permanent workers from three to five years. A day labourer can remain in the same position for more than five years and even up to ten years. The problems also extend to the pension rights of daily workers.

It demonstrates the hunger for information among workers. Through this platform we can empower workers to better understand their rights and advocate for themselves in the face of complex legal challenges.

In addition to providing "free consultation", Junaedi is famous these days. Many labour activists have told him about what's happening on the ground, which has been very useful.

"I have actively participated in the trainings and other events organised by Hukatan and CNV Internationaal. The cooperation between Hukatan and CNV Internationaal allows workers in Central Kalimantan to see that attention to labour rights not only comes from Indonesia, but that it’s also an international concern."

Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve through your continued use of TikTok as a tool for labour rights advocacy?

My goal is to continue leveraging technology to ensure that every worker in Indonesia has access to the information and support they need to assert their rights. Platforms like TikTok can help create a more just and equitable future for workers across the country.

Publication date 28 05 2024