by Letchimi Devi
How does it feel to be far away from your family at the moments of despair? How much does it hurt when you are not there to protect your loved ones? These are the thoughts that came to my mind during an interview with Khan (not his real name), another soul who some Malaysians tend to pour their viciousness onto.
He was working in Brunei for 2 years, returned home and got married. Poverty pushes people towards desperation, and so he decided to get a bank loan to pay an agent for a job in Malaysia. The loan amount is shocking, MYR18,000! He left his wife, Nur and two children, a son aged one and a daughter aged three, and came to Malaysia with the hope that his family will have a better life, soon.
But how cruelly were his hopes dashed! He came with a valid work permit along with 15 others to join SSN Medical Products Sdn Bhd, located in Seri Kembangan. Altogether 5 batches of workers were brought in by the company, headed by Mr. Clinton Ang Teck. These workers were contracted for three years but their work permit is only for a year. The company is responsible to renew their work permits but they never did. It means now their status is undocumented. And the 71 workers also don’t hold their passport; the employer does. This is against the law. The fault is obviously on the employer and the Malaysia government for failing in their job. But who is bearing the brunt? The workers are afraid to go out of their company premises, always face extortion and on top of that, they have not been paid their due wages for several months!
A search on company details reveal that since 17 Aug 1999, 80% of the shares of this company are owned by the Malacca state government’s Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). It’s a Government Linked Company. How much more cynical can this be?
According to the workers, they have not been receiving their wages on time since July 2019 and the company’s production, medical gloves, plunged. Their work hours gradually declined since November 2019, and since October 2019, there were no wages at all. They were merely living on a pittance e.g. RM50 at any one time from their employer. They were suffering in silence. They appealed to their Embassy in August 2019 and later in February 2019. Unfortunately, no help came. They also appealed to the Labor Department, Putra Jaya on 12 Feb 2020. Somehow, they managed to contact the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) for help, in February and we immediately took them to Labor Department (JTK) in Bangi, to file complaints. Their plight was also exposed to the press. That got the attention of CMI, for obvious reasons. PSM was told by CMI Director in private conversation that the matter will be solved soon. Almost 3 months have passed. Has anything changed?
The workers filed their pending wages claim at JTK on 9th Mar 2020. With the start of Covid-19 and MCO at the same time, our friend Khan and the other 70 workers were pushed to further adversity. They only received RM200 each in the month of January and February. How is that enough for them to survive the entire month? The RM200 can only last me a maximum of 8 days. Thank God, some well-wishers helped them a little.
Imagine, you no longer have your valid documents with you and there is a killer virus spreading in the air while you cannot even go to hospital if you fall sick. While the world is talking about social distancing, these workers have been living in a space, 20 x 10 feet with 15 to 20 people sharing a room. For 71 people, there are 5 rooms and only one kitchen, at a cost MYR50 per month for each person.
Despite all these, Khan is hoping that his employer will pay his due wages at least one week before Hari Raya. He said, since March the factory has picked up…thanks to Covid-19. Medical gloves are a desperately needed product globally.
The factory is running everyday and they are working 8 hours. They are provided masks, one each worker a day. The company checks their body temperature every day. All good! But salary for the month of March and April? NIL, NOT PAID.
In the last two weeks, there was a hate speech campaign towards migrants and refugees. It really pissed me off, to see how ruthless some people can be. I cannot deny my history and many of you will agree that majority of the people in the world are migrants. If not us, it’s our parents or grandparents would have migrated for economic reasons or to save our lives from persecution. Some of them out there claim that their race is being trampled but they do the same to others. So, is there a Hitler in all of us? Your race is superior and everyone else is a threat and subject to your cruelty. Is it so difficult to be fair, compassionate and humane?
You would not have what you have today if someone else did not show you empathy and love. Be kind to others, please.