The right of the retrenched estate workers

Speech by DAP Secretary General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr.Lim Kit Siang, to the DAP National Estates Sub-Committee on Wednesday, July 4, 1973 at 8 p.m.

In sungei Siput on March 12, 1972, I announced the formation of the DAP National Estates Sub-Committee to champion the case of the retrenched estate workers, and in particular, to fight for the right of the retrenched estate workers to a decent life in Malaysia.

Since then, the DAP has consistently, inside and outside the Parliament and State Assemblies, raised the voice on behalf of the downtrodden estate workers, particularly those who had been displaced and thrown onto the unemployment heap.

The problems of the estate workers had in the last decade been mass retrenchment, a decent livelihood, citizenship, education.

For the last 16 months that the DAP National Estates Sub Committee has been in operation, the DAP voice for a new deal for estate workers wad ignored by the Government, and in particular the MIC, which claimed to be the champion of the Indian community in Malaysia.

This was admitted by Tun V.T.Sambanthan in his MIC presidential resignation statement of June 27, where he said.

“Several sub-committees were set up to study various aspects of the community for the purpose of analysis and projection of solutions.

“Constructive thinking and action had to be undertaken. A large number of workers had not yet obtained citizenship and had to obtain work permits it they were to be employed.

“A number were left unemployed and had to leave the plantations, in which they may have been living for many decades, to become squatters and eke out a living by doing add jobs. Some had become beggars. Unemployment among youth, urban and rural was high.

“However, instead of a joint effort at constructive thinking, there had been turmoil.”

I do not want to concern myself with the Sambanthan-Manickavasagam power struggle, but Tun Sambanthan’s confession of the plight of the Indians in Malaysia is an admission, not only of the failures of the MIC leadership, but the irrelevance of the MIC in the aspirations and welfare of the estate workers.

That the estate workers in particular and the Indians in general are in a very disadvant ged position politically, economically, socially, educationally, has been obvious to those who have no reason to run away from the realities of life.

Thus, economically, the government reports have found that the rate of unemployment among Indian youths is higher than either the Malays or the Chinese.

Educationally, the recently-releated Murad Report on School Drop-outs found that the Indian students have a higher rate of school drop-out in primary schools than either the Malays or the Chinese.

Thus, in Chapter 3 of the Murad Report, it is stated that the Indians falls considerably behind other communities in primary school enrolment. For those at age 11, only 79.9% of the 1960 age group is enrolled n schools compared to 90.5% Malays and 90.7% Chinese. For the 1956 age group, 78.1 per cent Indian youths were enrolled in 1968 compared to 87.7% Malay youths and 90.1% Chinese youths.

Whether in school facilities, as in library provisions, teacher characteristics, school size, the Tamil schools come off the worst and invariably at the bottom of the list when compared with all the other language-media schools.

The Educational Planning and Research Division of the Ministry of Education made a sample survey if 197 schools in 1970 and came to the following findings:

(1) The Tamil schools have the lowest average of school size. Thus the average school size of an English medium school is 922 pupils; for the Malay medium the average size is 353 pupils; for the Chinese medium 634 pupils, and the Tamil medium 159 pupils.

(2) The Tamil medium schools have the lowest percentage of schools with central libraries.

(3) There is a serious problem of discontent and low morale of teachers in Tamil schools.

(4) Tamil schools rank highest in the list of those whose pupils have the most difficulties with schools fees.

The low quality and standard of education in Tamil primary schools is amply borne out by last year’s Std.V Assessment Test results where out of some 10,100 pupils who sat for the Std.V Test throughout West Malaysia, 81.5% failed in Bahasa Malaysia, 48.5% failed in Bahasa Inggeris I, 54.1% failed in mathematics; 50.5% failed in science; 54% failed in History-Geography; and 33.3% failed in Bahasa Tamil.

Incidentally, Selangor Tamil primary schools have one of the worst results, where out of its 3,200 students, 90% failed in Bahasa Malaysia, 62% failed in Bahasa Inggeris I; 63% failed in Mathematics; 58% failed in Science; 62% failed in History-geography; and 41% failed in Bahasa Tamil.

It is indeed shocking that the authorities concerned, and in particular, the MIC, could allow such a deplorable state of educational affairs to go on for decades without any serious effort to reform them.

The outlets for Indian students in employment or higher education opportunities are more conscribed and narrow.

These and many other socio-economic problems of the estate workers in particular and the Malaysian Indians in general need urgent attention and solution.

They should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet, and I urge all those who are concerned about this grave problem to join the DAP National Estates Committee to publicly discuss and seek ways and means to bring the estate workers into the mainstream of the country’s economic development.

Finally, I need only mention that the inflation in the country in the past year had hit the estate worker to the retrenched labourers very hard, and there is a very strong case that estate workers should have their wages revised upwards by some 20 per cent.

The Alliance Government should not delay any more in appointing a Special Minister to look after the socio-economic problems of the estate workers and the retrenched labourers, so that under the Second Malaysia Plan, all strata of people can be assured of a rightful stake in the economic, social, educational and political development of the country.