Malaysia: Three day protest by more than 5,000 migrant workers

Employers bow down to their demands

More than 5,000 migrant workers of JCY Co. Ltd., an electronics factory in the Tebrau Industrial area of Johor Baru, protested near the workers’ quarters over the negligence of their employer when a fellow Nepalese worker died of high fever while at work. This happened on 16th August when the employer did not allow him to be taken to hospital in time. It is also reported that another Nepalese worker also died on 4th August due to lack of timely treatment.

Migrant workers from Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India had united to register their strong protest over the death of their colleague in that factory. The workers had also highlighted the mistreatment by management, including low wages and no provision of healthcare facilities in the factory, which employs around 8,000 workers. About 200 Police and Federal Reserve Unit personnel were called by management to control the enraged workers. The determined workers put forward a four-point programme of demands, including a salary hike, in order to pressurise management into negotiating, as well as demanding that the Nepalese embassy intervene.

The three days protest ended in a victory for the workers. Management agreed to pay compensation of 10,000 Ringgit to the dead worker’s family; increase the minimum monthly salary from 428 to 546 Ringgit; provide an ambulance service for emergency cases and on time treatment at a clinic on the factory premises.

The struggle revealed that when workers are united they can win their demands, even though the employers attempt to use differences in race, country and religion to ‘divide and conquer’ workers. Recently, more and more migrant workers in Malaysia have bravely entered into struggle to fight for their rights.

This case of exploitation of migrant workers is only the tip of the iceberg in Malaysia. Most of the more than 3 million migrant workers (almost 10% of the Malaysian population) earn very low wages, work long hours and live and work in appalling conditions. According to the Nepalese embassy, during 2009 a total of 183 Nepalese workers in Malaysia lost their lives, and another 81 workers in the first six months of this year, mainly through illness and suicides. There are also many cases of deaths due to industrial accidents involving migrant workers.

In the meantime, the employers are using low wage migrant workers as a ‘threat’ to discourage local workers from demanding high wages. The weak trade unions, with a right-wing reactionary and bureaucratic leadership, are not capable of playing a role in leading common struggles between local and migrant workers. At the same time, almost 90 percent of workers are not unionized, and the government’s pro-employer labour and trade union law further undermines the rights of workers.

Although local workers are given a slightly better deal in wages, when compared to the high inflation rate their salary is not sufficient to manage their living expenses. Many are doing two jobs to meet their needs, and many even end up in the hands of loan sharks when they see no other way out. Even a recent government survey of about 1.3 million workers has shown that almost 34 per cent of them earned less than 700 Ringgit a month – below the poverty line of 720 Ringgit per month.

The multinationals, as well as the national capitalists, have been establishing their companies and factories in Malaysia to enlarge their profits. They do not care whether they employ local or foreign workers, as long as they can suck out the labour of workers to maximize their profits. Only workers can lend support to other workers for a common class struggle to liberate themselves from the viciousness of capitalism. An effort to build fighting trade unions, as well as a mass workers’ party, is crucial towards achieving a society based on needs and genuine democracy without exploitation that is a socialist society.

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August 2010