Speech by Par1iamtntary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the inugural meeting of the DAP Nationa1 Estates Committee held in DAP Headquarters, Petaling Java on Sunday, 14th August 1983 at 2.30 p.m.
DAP to censure Minister of Labour, Datuk Mak Hon Kam, in the budget session of Parliament for his multiple failures to protect contract workers from the abuses and evils of exploitation
The Selancar Empat Felda ‘Hell Estate’, where contract workers were subject to wrongful confinement, illegal detention, forced labour, criminal assault arid denial of wages for four long years, is merely the tip of on iceberg of the widespread abuse and evil of contract labour system Malaysia.
These abuses and evils of contract labour system, which includes child labour, sexual exploitation, debt slavery, are a terrible indictment of the Minister of Labour and his officials on their failure to protect the workers employed under the contract labour system.
What is shocking is that Ministry of Labour officials are aware of such rampt abuses and evils of contract labour, and yet did nothing to stamp out such management malpractices, raising the grave question as to whether the Minister of Labour and his officials are committed to the welfare of the workers, or are handmaidens of the managements to extract maximum advantage from the workers.
I regret very much that my attempt to raise the Selancar Empat Felda ‘Hell Estate’ scandal on the very first ay of the recently—condluded Parliament as a ratter of urgent, definite public importance was rejected. It is quite significant that no single MIC Minister or Deputy Minister wanted the Selancar Empat Felda ‘Hell Estate’ scandal to be raised and debated in Parliament.
In the 1970s, the DAP was the only voice in Parliament condemning the pernicious evils and abuses of the contract labour system, calling for regulation and even abolition of the contract labour system.
For instance, I spoke for the abolition or regulation of the contract labour system during the Royal Address debate in Parliament in April 1974 , and proposed that where work is of a permanent nature, a contract system is clearly designed to deny the workmen security of service, and other benefits required by law such as medical benefits, EPF, leave and other fringe benefits. The DAP wanted the contract labour system to be abolished in such cases. This system should only be allowed where work is of an intermittent or temporary nature or is so little that it would not be possible to employ full—time workmen, but in these circumstances, contract labour should he regulated.
As a result of these pressures built up by the DAP in Parliament and by unions outside, the government introduced an mendment to the Emp1oymit Ordinance in July 1976, to empower the Labour Minister to prohibit by order the employment, engagement or contracting of any person or class of persons to carry out work in any occupation in any agricultural or industrial undertaking, constructional work, statutory body, local government authority, trade, business or place of work other than under a contract of service
On the making of such an order, all persons or classes of persons specified in the order would become employers and employees for the purposes of the Employment Ordinance and other written law.
Unfortunately, for the last seven years since the amendment was made to the Employment Ordinance to empower the Labour Minister to prohibit contract labour and protect the workers from the abuses and evils o contract labour system, the Labour Minister had never issued such an Order! For all intents and purposes, the amendment to the Emp1oyment Ordinance to protect contract labourers in 1976 might as well had never been enacted.
In the Selancar Empat Felda ‘Hell Estate’, the workers were exploited and virtually enslaved for four long years, when they should be made employees under a contract of service enjoying all the benefits provided by the labour laws.
The evils and abuses of the contract labour system, which is still rampant in other estates and Felda schemes, could easily he resolved by the Minister of Labour issuing the first Order under the Employment Ordinance prohibiting contract labour system in Estates and Felda schemes, for with the Ministerial order, all contract labourers would by the Ministerial signature become employees enjoying all the benefits of the labour laws. Employers or sub—contractors who have special reason, because of the intermittent ar temporary nature of their work, could apply to the Minister for exemption from the Order.
However, the reluctance and unwillingness on the part of the Labour Minister to make such an order to stamp out evils and abuses of the contract labour system is typical of the attitude of the government officials and departments over these years to take seriously the suffering and plight of the contract labourers.
A good example is the irresponsible attitude of the Pahang Chief Police Officer who could blissfully assert that no criminal offences had been committed at Selancar Empat ‘Hell Estate’. The Selancar Empat workers had lost complete confidence in the Pahang CPQ that they had to go all the way to Malacca to lodge police reports against the sub—contractor for the crimes committed against them.
It is indeed a matter for shame that despite a whole battery of laws, regulations and government departments like the Labour Department, the Police and Felda authorities, the contract labourers could be exploited so harshly reminiscent of the era of slavery where human beings could be treated worse than animals by the rich and powerful.
The DAP will censure the Minister of Labour, Datuk Mak Hon Kam, in the budget meeting of Parliament in October — December 1973 for his multiple failures , despite the whole battery of laws and regulations and his entire Ministry of Labour, to protect the contract labourers in Malaysia, who number some 150,000 — 200,000, from the most despicable and slavish form of exploitation and degradation. As a protest against the indifference of the Labour Minister and his officials to the long—suffering plight of the contract labourers, the DAP will move a $10—cut motion against the Labour Minister’s salary during the budget meeting of Parliament.