DAP to take up in Parliament the case of transferring responsibility for the welfare of estate workers from the Human Resource Ministry to the Rural Development Ministry

Speech - DAP National Conference on
"The Educational and Socio-Economic Plight of the Depressed Indians in Malaysia"
by Lim Kit Siang
(Klang, Sunday):
During the Parliamentary debate on the Royal Address in April 1992, I spoke at length on the educational and socio-economic plight of the depressed Malaysian Indians and urged the Government to do justice to the Malaysian Indiansby ensuring that they enjoy a rightful place in the mainstream of development in the country.

In that speech, I tried to communicate to the Government the cry of the Malaysian Indians to end their marginalisation in the educational and socio-economic advancement of the country by referring to a very eloquent Malaysian Indian perspective as to why Malaysian Indians felt very left out and alienated by the booming national development.

At that time, a former top former civil servant who had reached the high position of a Ketua Setiausaha had just presented paper in a seminar on national unity, where he outlined the educational and socio-eonomic plight of the depressed Indians in the country, which he summarised as follows:

The Malaysian Indian: -

1. Constitutes the smallest of the large minorities.

2. Has not gained as much as the Malays and the Malaysian Chinese from Malaysia’s rapid economic growth.

3. Is losing out relatively to the other races in terms of poverty alleviation, incomes, social status, equity ownership, education and future opportunties to advance.

4. Feels relatively neglected by the government, as compared to government’s assistance to rural Malays, while the Malaysian Chinese have gained indirectly from rapid economic development, and government contracts through the use of their longer experience and enterprise in business and their connections.

5. Considers that their sense of deprivation is more serious since the Malaysian Indian leadership has been too occupied with its own internal problems and personal preoccupations. Consequently the Malaysian Indian leadership has not been able to do much to improve especially the unfortunate plight of the Malaysian Indian estate worker in particular and the Malaysian Indian in general.

6. Accepts the objective of Vision 2020 and appreciates the vigorous efforts being undertaken by government to modernise and industrialise the country, but fears that Malaysian Indians will be forgotten in the modernisation process and would drift down the national socio-economic ladder.

7. Feels a sense of hopelessness in the estates and has no alternative but to move out and engage in low productivity jobs in the urban areas.

8. Expects their depressed lives and low standards of living in the estates to continue indefinitely from generation to generation, in a resigned and fatalistic way.

These were the conclusions he reached:

Had the cry of the depressed Malaysian Indians been heard by the government and had the educational and socio-economic plight of the marginalised Indians in Malaysia improved in the last five years?

The sad fact is that the past five years were five wasted years in terms of ending the marginalisation of the depressed Indians in Malaysia by bringing them into the mainstream of Malaysia’s development and modernisation, and this is the reason why the DAP has organised the National Conference on the Educational and Socio-Economic Plight of the Depressed Indians in Malaysia.

Recently, estate workers staged a demonstration against an exhibition entitled "100 Years of Nation Building - Glimpses of Estate Life at the National Museum" organised by the United Planting Association of Malaysia protesting that it did not depict the real situation faced by plantation workers and therefore misleading visitors and tourists.

The Support Committee for Plantation Workers, which organised the demonstration, had raised a very valid point as nothing had been done to save the estate workers from becoming one of the most depressed and neglected socio-economic groups in the country.

The plight of the estate workers was summaried in a 14-point pamphlet issued by the Support Committee for Plantation Workers issued at the demonstration on "Glimpses of Estate Life … After 100 years (1897-1997)", namely:

The plight of the estate workers is further highlighted when an estate is sold for commercial development, where the retrenched workers are paid only 20 days wages for each year of service, which works out to about RM6,000 for 20 years - which is indeed mere pittance compared with the millions of ringgit the estate owners receive.

It will not be long before problems of estate workers become primarily a problem of foreign labour as foreign workers, particularly Bangladeshi foreign workers replace Malaysian workers in the estate workforce

The Government should work out a special strategy to ensure that estate workers and former estate workers could enjoy their rightful benefits from the development of the country and not become a new class of victims of development in the country.

I mention "former estate workers" because in most estates today, the majority of the estate workers are foreign labour as the former Malaysian Indian estate workers had drifted from the estates to become the new urban underclass occupying low-paying and low-productivity jobs. It will not be long when the problem of estate workers will primarily be a problem of foreign labour particularly Bangldeshi foreign workers, as foreign labour replaced Malaysian workers in the estate workforce - because of cheap labour rates and deplorable working conditions.

DAP will take up in Parliament which will reconvene on July 14 the case of transferring from the Ministry of Human Resources to the Ministry of Rural Development the responsibility to look after the welfare of the estate workers and former estate workers, as this would ensure that basic amenities such as water, electricity, housing, education and healthcare for estate workers and former estate workers could be provided by the Ministry of Rural Development which has a development budget.

I will also urge the Government to reinstate the estate workers and former estate workers as a specific poverty group which requires a special government blue-print for action, as was the case for estate workers in the earlier five-year developments but which had been dropped in the Sixth and Seventh Malaysia Plans.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong