Isolating Indonesia palm workers to spend Aidilfitri holiday on plantation


SINGAPORE/JAKARTA: Thousands of Indonesian palm oil workers who are in lockdown on plantations due to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak will have to stay put for Aidilfitri celebrations this weekend, rather than go home to celebrate the end of Ramadan with their families.

Fearing a spike in new Covid-19 cases, the Singaporean and Indonesian authorities have sought to discourage people from travelling for the festival this year, which usually sees workers from across the archipelago return to their hometowns.

Around 2,000 workers at a plantation in Indragiri Hilir on Sumatra island run by Singapore-based firm Musim Mas have been in isolation since March 20, with nobody allowed to leave or to enter the site, the company said.

A plantation manager said the workers were permitted to leave if they required medical assistance or for family reasons.

For one of the workers, Muhammad Saleh, 40, it will be the first time in six years working at the plantation that he cannot visit his hometown of Medan to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the holy Muslim month of fasting.

"I feel sad because we cannot return to our hometown and cannot meet our parents," said Saleh.

Health measures at the plantation include wearing masks, maintaining at least one metre (3.3 ft) distance between people and monitoring body temperature.

The Indonesia Palm Oil Association and the Indonesia Oil Palm Labor Union Network have jointly urged members not to travel outside plantations to ensure operations run smoothly.

They also called on plantation owners to pay a traditional extra month bonus during Eid al-Fitr and ensure the health and safety of workers.

Musim Mas said in a statement it could not say when it might end its lockdown, but would continue to assess the situation and take precautionary steps in line with government regulations. - Reuters
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