Call on the Government to set up a special government department to give new economic opportunities to the over 100,000 retrenched estate labourers in Malaysia

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr Lim Kit Siang, when declaring open the Tamil drama ‘Born To Live’ organised by the Ipoh Arts Society in aid of the education of children of retrenched estate labourers held at Ipoh Town Hall on Saturday 9th Dec. 1972 at 8.30 p.m.

Call on the Government to set up a special government department to give new economic opportunities to the over 100,000 retrenched estate labourers in Malaysia

Firstly, I want to thank the Ipoh Arts Society for the kind invitation to me to come and say a few words at the opening of this evening’s Tamil drama in aid of the educational needs of children of retrenched estate labourers.

Secondly, I must commend the officials of the Ipoh Arts Society for their civic consciousness and public spiritedness in giving their time and energy for the worthy cause in aid of the educational needs of children of retrenched estate labourers.

For the last ten years, the problem of unemployment among Malaysian Indians and the mass retrenched estate labourers have become more and more acute, and it is regrettable that up till new, the authorities concerned, whether at the Federal or State level, have shown little concern or interest.

It has been estimated that about 100,000 workers have been retrenched from rubber estates, constituting nearly 30 per cent of the total rubber estate work force in the last ten years. When we take into account their dependants, then the total number of people affected would be in the region of 500,000.

Figures are hard to come by, but the Second Malaysia Plan has admitted that in the five years from 1962-1967, some 54,000 workers were displaced from the rubber sector.

The rate and volume of estate retrenchment of labour since 1967 has accelerated.

The cause of this employment decline in the rubber estates is caused by the reduction in rubber estate acreage through fragmentation and by efforts of estates to introduce cost savings in production – in particular because of the low price rubber.

Thus from 1966 to 1970, during the First Malaysia Plan, although estate rubber output increased by 4% per year, total acreage tapped declined from 1.32 million acres to 1.28 million acres. More important, the rubber of workers per hundred acres tapped also dropped from 21.7 to 18.1.

The high incidence of unemployment among Malaysian Indians is also borne out by the 1967-1968 Socio-Economic Household Survey conducted by the Government. Thus on pall of the Survey Report, it is stated:

“It is significant that in 1962 the unemployment rate in terms of the labour force for each of the major races in Malaysia: namely, Malays, Chinese and Indians was practically the same viz: 6%.

“In 1967/1968, this pattern changed and the increase in unemployment has been mostly concentrated among the Chinese and Indians. In fact, the unemployment rate among the Malays have gone down from 6.0% to 5.8% while that for Chinese has gone up from 6% to 6.9%; for Indians there has been a significant increase in the unemployment rate from 6% to 10.3%.

The trend of unemployment increases among the different racial groups as detected by the 1967-1968 Socio-Economic Household Survey has continued, and the unemployment rate among the Malaysian and Indians must be in the region of 15%.

The problem of mass retrenchment of estate labourers have created grave hardships on the estate labourers, and I will generally group them into three categories for discussion tonight.

The first category is the question of a livehood. The majority of the retrenched estate labourers have spent the best part of their lives in building up the rubber industry, in bringing wealth to the country and fortune to the owners. Without the blood, sweat and tears of the Indians estate labourers, the country would not have the standard of living she has today.

The estate labourers, because of their significant contribution to the economy of the country, are entitled to a guarantee that they will not be thrown onto the unemployment heap during the latter part of their working life, as has happened to over 100,000.

This is why I call on the government to set up a special government department to give new economic opportunities to the 100,000 retrenched estate labourers.

The government should take the initiative, with the co-operation and financial contribution of the estate owners, to work out alternative means of settling the retrenched labourers if retrenchment is unavoidable.

For instance, the government, with the vast expense of undeveloped arable land, can launch a gigantic scheme to turn the retrenched estate labourers into new community of small-holders. It is only just and right that estate labourers, who had spent the better part of their working lives with their own plots of land as a gesture of the country’s gratitude.

The second major area of hardship which hits the retrenched labourers and also labourers not yet retrenched is the vexatious question of citizenship.

According to one estimate, there are some 100,000 Indians in the estate sector who are non-citizens. The overwhelming majority of them are Malaysian-born and have no links of any kind with Indian. Although these people are technically applied for Malaysian citizenship, it is a widely-known fact that very few of these applications are approved.

These local-born, non-citizen Indians should not be excluded from the mainstream of national economic and social development. The country owes them a duty to look after their welfare and interest.

I therefore urge the Government to launch a special exercise to grant citizenship to these local-born, non-citizen Indians by simplifying all citizenship procedures for them, so that they can contribute to the national development of the country.

I hope the MIC support this proposal of mine, and would take this matter to the Cabinet level and get adoption.

The third area for concern is education. The occasion tonight highlights one aspect of the educational backwardness of the children, not only of retrenched labourers, but of labourers in general.

Poverty and avoidable social and cultural backwardness are the chief causes of this. We know that many children cannot continue their schooling or cope with their school work because of the poverty at home, resulting in the inability to buy text-books, or poor nutrition and bad health.

The other aspect of this problem is the standard and quality of education that the children of estate labourers are getting. It cannot be said that the standard and quality of education of the Tamil primary schools are satisfactory. In fact, it is not an exact generation to say that the Tamil national-type primary schools at present school to condemn the children of estate labourers to remain as estate labourers, and not to fit them to breakthrough into high-income employments as in the professions and technologies.

An examination of the result of the Std. V assessment Test last year will bear out this statement.
Thus, for all states, the following are the percentage of failure for the science and mathematics subjects for Tamil primary schools:
Percentage of Failure (Tamil Primary Schools)
Assessment Test 1971
Science Mathematics
Perlis: 90% Perlis: 80%
Selangor: 64.02% Selangor: 71.76%
Penang: 65.89% Penang: 68%
Negeri Negeri
Sembilan: 50.28% Sembilan: 56%
Melaka: 48.85% Melaka: 55%
Pahang: 48.82% Pahang: 54%
Kedah: 48.56% Kedah: 52%
Perak: 48.65% Perak: 47%
Johore: 43.77% Johore: 47%
Kelantan: 46% Kelantan: 44%

Indian has produced world-famous scientists, atomic physicists and mathematicians, but it is clear if India had the educational primary base which is the case with Malaysia’s Tamil primary schools, then India would never have produced a nucleus of scientists and mathematicians, let alone world famous atomic physicists and nuclear scientists.

The Government must take the full responsibility for this backwardness in the Tamil primary schools, and its low standard and quality of education.

Finally, there is today the problem facing many children of estate and retrenched estate labourers who, despite the many obstacles and difficulties in their way, had been able to rise above the circumstances and do well in both primary and secondary education.

They have the mental ability and qualifications to proceed to university education to ensure a better future livelihood, but many find that they could not get places in Form Six and University.

These and many more problems, directly affecting the estate labourers and retrenched estate labourers, deserve national attention, and if my remarks tonight leads to more people to be aware, concerned about this been worthwhile.