Malaysia: 'Give plantation workers a better deal'

October 10, 2009

Malaysia's plantation sector should come under the ambit of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry and be accorded the same privileges and benefits that settlers covered by the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) enjoy, the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) said.

PSM secretary-general Arutchelvan said plantation workers had been sidelined since independence 52 years ago and left to fend for themselves whenever the economic situation saps the source of their livelihood.

The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which is part of the coalition government, "has been sending the wrong message to these workers by equating plantations with poverty, and encouraging them to move to urban areas where they encounter various types of social and economic problems", he said.

To illustrate his point, he said four plantations had to make way for development and the displaced workers were shifted into cramped multi-storey flats.

"These plantation workers should have been absorbed into the rural development plan, and given plots of land to build their homes and engage in agricultural activities that can sustain their living standard", he said.

"MIC should equate plantations with prosperity and pressure the government to give out business loans.

"MIC, which claims to be the voice of Indian Malaysians, should turn this concept into practical implementation and not be mere spectators to the lopsided treatment of the community."

PSM has campaigned for the plantation sector to be included in rural development, but hit a brick wall. The same happened when, in 2000, the PSM campaigned for a monthly wage structure for the plantation sector.

Arutchelvan said plantation workers were wiser after the general election last year and that politicians can no longer pull the wool over their eyes by making empty promises.

"Now, they want the government to address their basic rights like providing homes, water and electricity supply, business opportunities and loans on par with other races", he said.

Arutchelvan said the workers were also unhappy with National Front (BN) government for not helping them get jobs and for encouraging the use of foreigners to replace them.

PSM recently carried out a survey of four estates in Negri Sembilan. It found that the plantation population is dwindling as many locals had migrated to urban areas and have been replaced by foreign workers.

In Ladang Bradwall, only 130 of the 450 families remain.

"These poor workers should be given a minimum wage structure for them to cope with the high cost of living", Arutchelvan said. "On average, a worker gets about RM300 [about $100], which is way below the poverty line.

"Politicians come knocking on the doors whenever there is an election and promise them the sky in return for their votes and then vanish into the night, only to come knocking again at the next election."