By: Ajay Shankar
In the middle of October, officials at the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur came across a disturbing story in a local Tamil publication with this headline — “For not coming to work, hit by bottle”.
Apparently, a 40-year-old Indian worker from Tamil Nadu had been hit on the head by his employer at a textile shop in Malaysia’s capital for not turning up for work regularly. That report set in motion a series of discussions that finally culminated in a highly unusual press release from the High Commission that could well become the template for other Indian outposts dealing with such extreme cases.
The strongly-worded statement that has been posted on its website warns that “in cases where there is an evidence of abuse and ill-treatment, the employers responsible will be withdrawn the privileges which the Indian government has extended to them, like PIO card, visas, etc.”
The effect was immediate: employers of Indian workers have since streamed in to clear outstanding issues. One came to return passports of employees which he had held up, another came to make an exit pass for his employees, and employers’ associations have asked for discussions to resolve pending issues.
There was even an employer who came to the High Commission all the way from Penang, about 350 km away, to regularise the papers of his Indian employees.
“The intention … was to act as a deterrent to those who indulge in severe physical abuse and ill-treatment of Indian labourers working in Malaysia,” TS Tirumurti, High Commissioner, told The Indian Express. “I am happy that our press release has had an immediate salutary effect and we have been able to resolve some of the outstanding cases in a manner in which the interest of the Indian labourers have been fully protected.”
There are 1,15,000 legal workers and an estimated 50,000 illegal workers from India in Malaysia, according to official figures. And what makes the situation particularly sensitive for Indian officials, who deal with 4-5 confirmed cases of abuse every month, is that employers who face such allegations include Malaysian Indians — a fact acknowledged by a senior official of the single largest political party representing the interests of the diaspora there.
Datuk SS Rajagopal, executive secretary, Malaysian Indian Congress, told The Indian Express that his party “fully supported” the contents of the press release issued by the High Commission. Rajagopal, a former state minister, added that most of these cases occur because of “devious” recruiting agents in India who sent workers to Malaysia on false promises.
“They (the agents) collect money and dump the workers at the airport. These workers are often then sub-contracted to restaurants or to agriculturists to work on their estates, mostly rubber estates,” he said.
“When this happens, some of them run away, lose their work permit, and their new employers take advantage of it. Unfortunately, some of these cases include Malaysian-Indian businessmen too. It’s human nature, you tend to bully people of your kind.”
According to Tirumurti, the Malaysian government has been a source of support with stringent fines — up to nearly 10,000 ringgit — for employers found guilty. “The High Commission resolves most of such cases and others directly in consultation with the concerned employers and employees or with the intervention of the human resources ministry of Malaysia,” he said.