A tribute to the men and women working in palm oil mills. They are heroes in their own right – living in remote areas, toiling in harsh conditions – the work they do, help feed the world.
Working in a palm oil mill is no easy job.
To start with, a palm oil mill is usually located in remote areas – far from civilization, family and friends, and often located within the plantations itself where amenities and creature comforts are scarce.
Secondly, due to the nature of the fruit, workers at the mill will be dealing with a lot of dirt and fibers. This makes it a challenge to keep oneself clean while at work and within the premises of the mill.
Thirdly, because steam is widely used all around the plant to heat up the oil palm fruits and its crude oil, the entire main process building is as hot as a sauna.
This is written in tribute to all the people who work in the palm oil Industry. The people who gave their lives, dedication, blood and sweat not only to their Company and the Palm Oil Mill, but also to fulfill the ultimate Mission – Feeding the World.
To them, I give my salute and gratitude.
Here’s Ramlee, the Transfer Carriage Operator. Ramlee is responsible for conveying Fresh Fruit Bunch cages on 4 different marshaling rails that leads to the entrance of the sterilizers.
Gopi Krishnamurthy. His father died of Liver cancer when he was 7 years old. His mum, as a single parent, looked after both him and his brother. She is now afflicted with diabetes that has resulted in blindness. The family is now left with Gopi as the sole bread winner and care giver.
Saw Thu Far from Myanmar and Sujarwo from Indonesia, fixing a high-pressure water pump before commencing cleaning works. Saw Thu Far was recently repatriated to Myanmar. A week before he left for home, he came to see me at my office, asking me what t-shirt size would fit a 5-year-old boy. I looked at him in amazement and asked, “You don’t even know what t-shirt size your son is wearing?” He looked at me emotionally and said, “I’ve never seen my son before. I left Myanmar to work in Malaysia before he was even born…” The moment he finished that sentence, it was I who became emotional.
His name is Rajendran, but I call him Bob. A Hoist Operator, he ensures all cages containing sterilized fruits are hoisted up safely up the thresher drum hopper.
Ismail Ramlan, Ramp Mandore, and Din, Ramp Worker. They’re responsible for Fresh Fruit Bunches Grading operations.
Angilal, from Nepal. A mischievous young man with high spirits, he has been repatriated after serving in the mill for 5 years.
Ganang, from Pulau Lombok, Indonesia. He’s responsible for feeding the Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB’s) from the hopper into the empty cages before sterilization. He hasn’t been home for almost 5 years.
Soe Thet, from Myanmar, who works on the Marshaling Yard. He’s responsible for marshaling cages filled with Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB’s) into the sterilizers by means of a capstan. A quiet but very hardworking man.
Ah Seng, is the truck driver who delivers Empty Fruit Bunches back to the plantations for mulching, returning the nutrients of the Empty Fruit Bunches back to the soil, resulting in a reduction in fertilizer usage.
Every morning, Ravi will manoeuver his shovel and load Empty Fruit Bunches (EFB’s) onto trucks to be sent into the estates for mulching.
Loges, the Chargehand from the Electrical Workshop. He assists the Chargemen in their daily routine of maintaining various motors, switchboards, and other electrical appliances used in the mill. He also assists in the maintenance of electrical appliances at the workers’ quarters.
Baharuddin and Fahmi, the lab assistants. Their job is to monitor the oil and kernel losses from samples obtained from the process stations. Any abnormality on the results will be immediately fed back to the process foremen for rectification on machine settings. His role, therefore, is paramount to ensure highest possible Oil Extraction Rates (OER) and Kernel Extraction Rates (KER).
Said the Chargeman, concentrating on inspecting a motor for damages. His role is to ensure all electrical equipment in the mill – from motors to switchboards to air compressors – are maintained and functioning well at all times.
Haji Satimin and Zainal, the fitters from the Mechanical Workshop, sharing ideas on how to repair a John Deere Shovel bucket.
Koh Poh Seng, the dedicated Foreman. With his team of fitters and apprentices, he is in-charge of all things mechanical in the mill.
Rozi, a Mechanical Workshop fitter.
Bala, the Oil Room Operator. Here he inspects the nozzles of our centrifuges, and if the nozzles are found worn, replacements of these nozzles will be done immediately to minimize oil losses.
Manik, a worker from Bangladesh, inspects the nozzles of the sludge centrifuges for blockages as well as wear and tear together with Bala.
Azman, a general worker of the mill, leans on the rail of our sludge pit for a brief rest after work.
Nasir, Mechanical Workshop fitter, ties a rope around a string of conveyor chains to be pulled up by another fitter onto a platform located 20 feet above.
Hussain, a Mechanical Workshop fitter, scrapes off fiber residues from the vibrating screen as part of his routine maintenance works.
Naung Done, another Myanmar worker who have been serving in the Palm Oil Mill since 5 years ago.
Abdul Korim from Bangladesh delivers residue fibers from the polishing drum to the Boiler station as burning fuel.
From Left : Firemen Ramasamy, Min Aung from Myanmar, Jurimi and Boilerman Mashud. Their parents have also worked in the mill during the its commissioning in the 1960’s.
S. Mohanan, the Effluent Pond Supervisor. Under hot and often smelly conditions, he oversees and supervises a gang of workers responsible of the Palm Oil Mill Effluent treatment and discharge, ensuring that all discharged effluents meet strict requirements from the Department Of Environment (DOE).
Anthony, the Ramp Supervisor. Anthony is in charge of Crop Quality, leading a team of workers that grade all Fresh Fruit Bunches sent to the mill. He is also responsible for the Gardening works of the Workers’ Camp and also the Mill Surroundings.
Power Women. These women are responsible for the Administration, HR and Accounts part of the Mill Operations.
Ravi, the Shovel Contractor. He is responsible in EFB evacuation, loading them into trucks from the EFB Bay in the Mill for delivery to the fields for mulching.
Devi, weighbridge operator. Together with Mary, they are responsible in recording the Gross, Tare and Nett Weights of each vehicle going in and out of the Mill premises.
Norhamizan, a certified Welder of the Mechanical Workshop.
Bahaman, Assistant Supervisor of the Mechanical Workshop. He oversees and also gets personally involved with the repairs and maintenance of the machineries.
Ganesan, Assistant Lab Supervisor. Responsible for quality and loss analysis, he and his team of colleagues will regularly take samples of the Mill produce to test and ensure that the quality or losses are within specifications and limits.
Siti Faizah, Store Assistant. She is in-charge of Stock Requisitions, Issues and Receivings.
Letchumi, one of the sweeper ladies working at the Ramp Station. She is responsible in ensuring that the surroundings are clear of rubbish or debris, and any loose fruits scattered on the floor of the ramp are fully recovered and loaded into the hopper.
Mary, weighbridge operator. Together with Devi, they are responsible in recording the Gross, Tare and Nett Weights of each transport vehicle going in and out of the Mill premises.
Subramaniam, Mechanical Assistant Foreman. He has left the company recently to become Technical Assistant Manager in another Mill. A very dedicated staff in his own right.
Paul Raj, certified welder for the mill. Paul has recently become a father, and he has shared with me that every drop of blood and sweat that he toils is for his wife and his newborn daughter.
Kyaw Swar Win. Myanmar Worker. The Palm Oil industry is generally assisted by quite a number of foreign workers from Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and even India. These are hardworking, humble individuals, and I think our country owes them so much for the sacrifices they make in leaving their native lands and families behind to help fuel the growth of our economy. These people must not be exploited and they have to be accorded the same welfare, recognition and respect, just like every one else.
The next time you eat a biscuit, a piece of chocolate, or when you spread margarine onto your bread, think about the sacrifices of these great men and women who have worked so hard in order to keep our stomachs full. Despite many lobbies from various NGOs on the environmental and wildlife impact the Palm Oil industry has brought, we must also remember that this industry has brought many people, especially those living in rural areas, out of the poverty line. The Oil Palm upstream industry alone in Malaysia provides employment to more than 450,000 people, whilst many more have derived livelihood from the downstream industry and its associated services. 1
Oil Palms are also the highest Oil Yielding crop in the world till date (3.8MT CPO per Hectare in 2006)2, and with the demand of biofuels on the rise, it is one of the best crops one can cultivate to optimize land usage and at the same time obtain the highest oil yield.
As far as we want to provide jobs and bring prosperity to the people, we must never fail to remember, that we are doing all these on borrowed land.
Hence, sustainable practices in the cultivation of Oil Palms and Environment Conservation Efforts are non-negotiable and must be implemented across the board from the big players to the small holders. Organizations like the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Green Palm Oil, for example, are organizations that were set up for this cause.
Such is the challenge of all players in the Palm Oil industry.
1, 2 Gurmit Singh, KH Lim, Teo Leng, KW Chan (2009). Sustainable Production of Palm Oil – A Malaysian Perspective. Published by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association. Preface pg. ix.
LB: Jonathan Fun is an inquisitive, community-driven Malaysian passionate about current affairs, who never fears to be vocal and supportive for the right causes in society. An engineer by profession, he loves music, travelling, fun and adventure, and finds immense joy and fulfillment in making friends and meeting new people from all walks of life. An ardent believer in moderation, he pursues balance in everything he says and touches. Follow his blog at www.jonathanfun.com and his tweets at @jonathanfun.