The Fate of The Rollers

They players of the cigarette industry use labors as excuses to get away from government’s tobacco regulations. Their rights remain unfulfilled.

CALL for the morning pray has ended. Ana, 28 years old, just finishes uttering the last words of her prayer. She can still feel the coolness of the water she uses to clean herself in the preparation of the prayer. Now she is ready to start her day.

To save money, this mother of one chooses to walk instead of spending two thousand rupiahs for transportation. She walks through the mist hanging on the streets of Pandanwangi village, Tumpang, Malang, East Java. When she arrives in the main road, she catches a public transportation to Pakis Mas cigarette factory in Arjosari, where she works for the last five years as a cigarette roller.

Ana and hundred thousand others are working as labors in this cigarette factory. Working for low wage with no career prospect, they are the main pillars supporting the giant cigarette industry. Years and years they spent behind the table and cigarette roller machine.

Through fellowship program of Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Jakarta, Pena Indonesia and Tobacco Free Kids Campaign, journalist Aditya Wardhana last August reported the life of the labors of cigarette factories in Malang, East Java. Ana is one of the labors.

Five twenty in the morning, Ana arrives in front of Pakis Mas Cigarette Factory. Green ironed gate is closed. She has ten minutes more before the morning commotion begins. Ana open her breakfast: plain rice and tofu cooked in soy sauce. She enjoys her most important meal of the day in silence.

One by one, Ana colleagues come. They say hi and greet each other. “How are you? Hope you are well.”

Five thirty sharp the gate opens. Sreek… Without any command, around two hundred labors make their way to pass the gate, including Ana. She finishes her not-so-nutritious meal. Here worn meal plastic box is already in her bag.

Getting the first row is important for Ana and her colleagues. This is the first layer of survival to the fittest in a la cigarette factory. “We have to queue to get the most materials to work on,” he Ana. Who sits the closest to the coordinator, that person would have the chance to get more materials

Also, do not mess with the coordinator. When the coordinator does not feel comfortable with a particular labor, that person’s salary can be cut down or even erased completely. “Once he does not like a certain person, she would not get any materials to work on even if she sits right in front of him,” Ana explains. Heated discussions between labor and coordinator emerge here and there. But, “The coordinator, of course, has a better position. So we just stay out of trouble,” explains this woman from Malang.

In Pakis Mas, each labor rolls 2,500 cigarettes per day. For every one thousand cigarettes, the labor gets Rp. 9.000. So each week, Ana receives 135 thousand rupiahs or 540 thousand rupiahs per months. This is way below regional minimum wage of Malang District of 802 thousand rupiahs.
A note is attached to this salary. She has to work every day. She cannot take any sick absent or any leave. Owner of Pakis Mas Ruchan explain the remuneration system in this factory. “No work, no pay,” he says. It is that simple.

It is only natural that labors fight for more materials by coming early in the morning and maintain favorable relationship with the coordinator, to ensure materials enough for 3,000 cigarettes – 500 more than the usual quote.


QUEUES around the coordinator’s table disperse. One by one labor returns to their work tables. Ana brings a tray of tobaccos, ambry (a type of paper for cigarettes) and glue – she is ready for 3,000 cigarettes today. She silently hums songs, she is grateful for today’s blessings.

A cigarette roller table is a small-sized piece of furniture made from teak wood placed on top of a wooden desk. Ana sits behind the desk and with her skillful hands she starts her magic. Her left hand puts a piece of paper on the roller table. At the same time, her right hand pinches tobacco to be placed on top of the paper. Sreet…, she places the tobacco neatly. Then, ceklek, she pulls a machine lever with her right hand. Hap, in less than ten seconds, a cigarette is rolled neatly and falls under the machine.

Time flies that day. All labors are immersed in their work. No chatting, no walking around, no toilet breaks. “I need to achieve my target,” Ana says.

She ties 20 cigarettes she completed into one lot to make the counting easier. After she finishes with the rolling part, she cut both edges neatly with scissors. These cigarettes are ready to be submitted to the coordinator.

In the past, the whole task is performed by two labors. One labor rolls, another cuts. Fees are split between the two, two third for the roller and the rest goes to the cutter.

It was her aunt who introduced her to this ‘career.’ Ana starts as her cutter. In between rolls, her aunts taught her how to roll cigarette. “It was pretty quick. I learned for a day and got the hang of it,” Ana remembers.

Ana works as a cutter for seven years. Later, the factory where Ana and her aunt worked for is closed down for bankruptcy. Ana finds work in another factory, Pakis Mas, and climbs the career ladder as a roller.

In the past few years, Ana explains that now cutting and rolling are performed by one labor only, for the sake of efficiency.

As the afternoon cones, Ana is ready to submit one thousand cigarettes to the coordinator. She makes 20 extras. “Maybe one or two are not selected,” Ana explains. Selection is made based on the neatness of the cut, symmetry or standard measurement.

After she submits her work to the coordinator, Ana continues working on the next lot. Her hands perform the same ritual. Another thousand of cigarettes wait.

There is no official break for the labors. Their main target is to roll as many as cigarette as possible. So they can take a break whenever convenient. “I usually take a break at one then I start working again,” Ana mentions. In this 30-minute break, Ana eats her meager lunch, goes to the toilet and performs afternoon pray. After that Ana returns to her desk and starts rolling. No fuss.

At four in the afternoon, all work is done. Today’s quota is met. In total, Ana and her colleagues work for eleven hours a day. It is three hours more compared to a normal work hour. No overtime fee though. “It is because they are paid for what they produce, not for the hour they clock in,” Ruchan explains.

It means no work for them when the factory stops its production.

Delapan Wijaya cigarette factory for example, temporarily stops its production for four months. No work, no payment.

This of course affects the life of Tutik and approximately 200 others who work for Delapan Wijaya factory. They received half of their salary when the factory temporary stops. “Thanks to the workers union, we got paid. In the past, because there was no workers union, we did not get paid at all,” explains Tutik who has been working for more than 10 years for Delapan Wijaya.

To make ends meet, Tutik moncok to another cigarette factory. Moncok is a term for temporary work contract known since the colonial times. It means the labor works on a temporary basis and gets paid for what they produce. This way, the factory does not have to recruit full- time labor. When Delapan Wijaya re-starts its production, Tutik will end her moncok and return to the Delapan Wijaya.

So far there is no information on when the day will come. Tutik, a middle-aged woman, shrugs her shoulders when asks about what awaits in the future. “I heard that the factory is up for sale. I can only be patient,” Tuti says. “If I am laid off from the job, I hope I receive the compensation I am entitled to.”


CIGARETTE is a commodity with special flavors. This industry puts the owners on the global list of the wealthiest around the world. For example, Forbes Asia in 2007 puts two of them on the list: the family of Gudang Garam owner Rahman Halim sits comfortably in the rank of 538 with US$ 1.9 billion assets. Another is the family of Djarum owner Budi Hartono, who is the rank of 664 with US$ 1.5 billion assets.

The gap between owners and labors is gigantic.Ana and millions of labors are small screws in the machinery which profits are enjoyed by the owners.

In small-scale cigarette factory, things are more complicated. Labors working for this type of factory get paid only on the basis of work done. Geng Wahyudi, Head of Association of Small Scale Cigarette Industry (Paguyuban Pengusaha Rokok Kecil/Paperoki) explains that this arrangement means there are no other strings attached.

M Rully, officer from Work Security and Safety Regulations (Norma Keselamatan dan Kesehatan Kerja ) Office of Employment, Malang District, expresses similar view with Geng. “If they agree to perform the job, well, then go ahead. If not, they can look for another job” he states. When they stop working, they receive no compensation whatsoever for the service they have provided for the factory.

This puts the labors in weak position. Andy Irfan, Secretary General of Alliance of Indonesian Labor Union Congress in East Java, heavily criticized this kind of relationship. “Those owners turn a blind eye on the law,” he insists.

This system only covers production-based payment, or freelance. According to Law no. 13/2003, they are actually three kinds of work relationship: full-time, contract-based and freelance. This is the core of his argument, “Labors of cigarette factory should be entitled for full-time work relationship,” Andy argues. “It is because they are the indispensable element of the whole production, which is a long-term continual process.”

Because their work relationship is unclear, Andy argues that the owners escape their obligations. As a result, rights to leave, fringe benefit and social security are prone to violation.

Most of the labors, 90 of them are women, almost never take proper either menstruation or maternity leave. If they do not come to work, they have no salary and no benefit. “Procedure to apply for menstruation leave is very complicated so they simply ignore it altogether,” explains Bambang Edy, Head of Advocacy Division of Indonesian Labor Solidarity Struggle (Solidaritas Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia/SPBI) in Malang district.
Social security (Jaminan Sosial Tenaga Kerja/Jamsostek) also is non-

existent. Owner of Pakis Jaya cigarette factory Ruchan admits that he do not enroll his labors to the program. “We have to calculate everything to make sure we can afford it,” says Ruchlan.

To fight for their rights, Pakis Mas labors unite themselves in Pakis Mas Indonesian Labour Solidarity Struggle (Solidaritas Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia Pakis Mas) to demand proper work contract. “The owner says that all of us are already full-time, but we don’t know whether we are documented in the Office of Employment,” Ana says. At the moment Pakis Mas Indonesian Labour Solidarity Struggle is negotiating for social security for its employers.

Geng Wahyudi admits that 70 per cent from 194 small scale cigarette factory in Malang give their employers below minimum wage salary to their labors, ranging from Rp 7.000 to Rp 10.000 per a thousand cigarettes. Market demand is uncertain and competition against big companies is tough. Geng argue those are the reasons why cigarette factories cannot provide decent salary.

Bambang and Andy also see that business calculation is not the only reason for lack of compliance. The government also fails to conduct rigorous monitoring. “There are failures from the Office of Employment to carry out its role in monitoring and protection,” Andy argues.

Head of Work Security and Safety Regulations of the Office of Employment of Malang District provide no rebuttal. “We do not have enough manpower,” Rully admits.

The problems do not stop at lack of monitoring. According to Rully, Office of Employment is under pressure every time it attempts to improve labor system in cigarette industry. Some cases remain unsolved or swept under the rug. “When it comes to cigarette labor, we turn a blind eye,” Rully admits. Laws and regulations are no longer important, “What matter is how the factory remains in operation and how labor can continue working,” he says.
Cigarette industry is, in other words, untouchable. Lobby and

pressures on the Office of Employment, as Rully admitted, are old news. It is because this industry generates substantial revenue for the local government.

For Malang local government, cigarette industry is the super star of the local economy. In three decades, this industry absorbs the biggest labor in Malang, followed by Overseas Indonesian Workers. “Cigarette industry plays a key role here,” according to Djaka Ritamtama Head of Office of Employment and Population Mobility Malang District.

From 2007 to 2008, there are 58,632 labors in Malang scattered around 375 small, medium and big scale cigarette factories.

In general, cigarette industries in Malang contribute 54 per cent of tax return in Regional Office III in East Java– which covers Trenggalek, former Besuki Residency, Malang, and Kediri. In 2008 up to August, tax return revenue from cigarette industry reach Rp 8.33 billion from the Rp 1.8 trillion targeted.

It should be remembered however, no one is above the law, including cigarette industry with substantial contribution of local revenue. But for years, players of the cigarette industry exploit their economic privilege to steer away from compliance with labor regulations (See: Tobacco and Labor Control). But, as Andy explains, “In reality, labor rights are ignored.”

Tubagus Haryo Karbyanto, activist of Indonesian Tobacco Control Network (Jaringan Pengendalian Tembakau Indonesia), sees that industries are hiding behind the labor excuse. “It is an empty propaganda,” Tubagus says. Cigarette factories are now pressing their pedals to shift from manual labor to machinery.

As owners continue to exploit cheap labor, they are ready to change gear into using non-human labor – machines. The goal remains increasing profit to the max. So, Tubagus asks, “Who are we fighting for?

Tobacco and Labor Control

UP to now, Indonesia is the only Asian countries not ratifying FCTC or Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international agreement on tobacco controls, signed by 192 State members of World Health Organization (WHO) on 2003. It is ratified by 137 countries.

The objective of this convention is to protect the people from health, social, environmental and economic hazards caused by tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smokes.

For the industry players, FCTC represents a threat to their profit. It is because labor rights are part of the package. So far, the cigarette factories have enjoyed lenience in compliance with these rights. They are hiding behind the excuse that labor rights contribute to production costs.

Resistance also comes from KeluHarianto Swara Mardani, CEO of PT Karya Niaga Utama, a cigarette factory in Malang. “If production costs increase, we have to increase our price as well. However, we have to comply with the standardized price,” he explained to Sinar Harapan last August. To survive, Harianto added, they would have to cut labors’ working hours. “Mass job termination would be our very last resort,” Harianto explained.

In the past few weeks, discourse on religious fatwa claiming that cigarette is haram (sinful for consumption) emerges. Observers, workers union activists and even fellow clerics reject the proposal – each bringing their own ammunitions. quotes Piet Abdullah, Director of Training and Education of Food, Beverage, Tobacco and Cigarette Workers Union (Serikat Pekerja Rokok Tembakau Makanan dan Minuman/ SPRTMM) in Kudus. “If MU issues this fatwa, we would be the first to reject it,” Piet expresses his thought. “Cigarette is not a simple health hazard, but it creates job opportunities and revenue. Even former President Abdurrahman Wahid joins the bandwagon by stating that haram fatwa would lead to increased unemployment.

In cigarette industry, labors are like a magic bullet. They are used, or abused to be precise, to get away from any kind of tobacco control. Old songs are repeated over and over – cigarette industry will collapse, hundred thousand of labors will lose their jobs, unemployment will skyrocket and tobacco peasants will lose their earnings.

Are they simply myths or facts?

Abdillah Ahsan from Demography Institute (Lembaga Demografi) University of Indonesia tries to separate the two. In 2004, there are 259 thousand people working in big- and medium- scale cigarette industries, or 1.16 per cent of the overall industrial workers and 0.3 of the total employment in the country. Cigarette industries sit on rank 48 out of 66 intensive labor industries. “It means,” Abdillah concludes, “the contribution of cigarette industry to national employment is not that significant.”

Abdillah also highlights that in 2000-2006, monthly salary of cigarette labor workers are lower compared to food and other industries. A labor working for a cigarette factory receives Rp. 452 thousands each month. A fellow labor in food industry receives Rp. 547 thousands monthly. On the average, industrial workers in general received Rp 728 thousands monthly salary.

While the industries are reluctant to pay the salaries of the labors, they are more than willing to fork for promotional fees.

Bentoel International Investama 2007 financial report for example, shows that this company spends Rp 256, 265 billion for promotion, twice from its budget for labor cost – Rp 105,804 billion.

Tubagus Haryo Karbyanto from Indonesian Tobacco Control Network also criticized this old excuse. “This is an empty propaganda,” Tubagus insists.

Worse, nowadays, cigarette industries are moving toward machinery for production efficiency. Labor cost will continue to be cut. So, “Who are we defending anyway?”

In 2006, 132 billion machine clove cigarettes are produced while non-clove cigarettes are 16 billions. Meanwhile hand-rolled cigarettes are only 95 billion. This shows that the use of machine in the production is inevitable.

Tubagus also sheds a light on the now-popular labels of mild, light, low tar and low nicotine, creating an impression that these types of cigarettes are a healthier option. “It is a lie. It stimulates people to smoke even more,” Tubagus says. Consumption increases and moreover, mild, low tar and low nicotine types of cigarettes are made by machines, not by hands of the labors.

Abdillah and Tubagus are sure that tobacco control will not create a devastating situation as pictured by the industry for years. World Bank publication titled “Curbing the Epidemic: Government and the Economic of Tobacco Control” states that research shows no unemployment influx ever happen to countries applying tobacco control. On the contrary, the countries gain for improved health and productivity of the citizens.

Tobacco control, Abdillah emphasizes, will not reduce consumption. “It is an addictive substance so it caters to a very loyal group of users,” he argues. Increase of excise for 10 per cent for example only cut down the level of consumption for 3.5 to 6 per cent.

Increase of excise also creates positive impact on the growth of employment. Once cigarette consumption decreases, the household spending will turn to other goods such as milk, meat or even education fund. This will stimulate other sectors to grow.

Abdillah’s research simulates that a 10 per cent excise increase will open 281.135 employments on other areas. Abdillah agrees that from 66 industry sectors, 6 sectors interrelated with cigarette industries will experience 168.000 job cuts. However, 60 others will rise and provide 449.144 job opportunities.

Abdillah argues that job cuts themselves are long-term impact. “The whole thing will only be felt in the next 10 years,” he says. So the government has enough time to prepare, including setting up capital support and technical assistance. “This can be done for example by shifting small scale cigarette factories to a more viable business sectors,” argues Abdillah.

Moreover, Abdillah adds, so far cigarette industries are concentrated in two provinces – Central and East Java. In East Java, factories are also clustered in Kediri and Malang only. “So,” Abdillah continues, “the job cuts impact should be uncomplicated.” One requirement though: government will to do so.

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