(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): Three Mondays ago on April 19, 1999, over a thousand estate workers and their representatives from all over the country congregated at Parliament House to present their memorandum to Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Opposition Leader their demands for justice and fair play, such as a minimum monthly wage and better housing for estate workers.
On the very same day of receipt of the memorandum, the DAP decided to again highlight the plight of over 300,000 estate workers in Parliament with the DAP National Vice Chairman and MP for Teluk Intan, M. Kula Segaran immediately raising the issue as a matter of urgent, definite public importance.
This is by way of a motion of urgent, definite public importance to adjourn Parliament from its ordinary business to focus debate on the subject. In the past, two hoursí notice was needed to be be given for such a motion, but in the process of progressive amendments of the Standing Orders - not to create but to stifle greater opportunities and spontaneity to raise in Parliament urgent issues of the people and country - the two-hoursí notice was increased from four-hour and now 24 hoursí notice.
As a result, there was no way for Kula Segaran to raise the issue of the petition of the estate workers in Parliament on the next day, ie. Tuesday, April 20, but only on Wednesday, April 21.
Kula Segaranís motion urged Parliament to enact two laws, one for a RM750 minimum monthly wage and the other for a permanent housing scheme for estate workers.
Unfortunately, Kula Segaranís motion to highlight in Parliament the demands of the estate workers was rejected out-of-hand, because of what should by now be the infamous attitude of the authorities that be - that it was "irrelevant" or not relevant enough to cause Parliament to immediate address the plight of the estate workers although over a thousand estate workers and their representatives had come from all over the country to petition the government and Parliament .
In the next general elections, the voters and in the particular the workers must make sure that they vote in a Parliament which is more relevant to the needs and aspirations of the people.
In actual fact, Kula Segaran was not even allowed to present the motion in Parliament, which is a rarity for in most cases, MPs are allowed to present their motion of urgent, definite public importance to adjourn the House and got it knocked out on the ground that although the issue was definite and of public importance, it was not "urgent" enough to be addressed by Parliament by adjourning its ordinary business.
In this case, the Speaker invoked new powers from recent amendments to Parliamentary Standing Orders to empower him to refuse in chambers, which would have the effect that the motion could not be proposed or even read in the House.
The reason given by the Speaker was that the demand of the workers for a minimum wage and proper housing was an issue which had been around for so man years - implying, I presume, that the plight of the estate workers have ceased to be definite, of public importance or even urgent!
Although the issue of the estate workers were subsequently raised by DAP MPs in the debate on the Seventh Malaysia Plan mid-term review, the subject was given short shrift by the government which does not give serious regard the long-standing plight of the estate workers.
If estate workers want Parliament to regard their demands of definite, urgent public importance, then they must first alter the composition of Parliament to elect MPs who are responsitive and sensitive to the cries for justice and fair play by the ordinary masses.
In the past three decades, DAP MPs had consistently voice the cause of labour in Parliament, including the plight of the estate workers, as can be verified by a check with Hansard, or Parliamentary record, going back to the early seventies.
But these Opposition voices for justice and fair play for the estate workers and the Malaysian labour movement had by and large fallen on deaf ears. This is the demand of the estate workers such as the RM750 mininum monthly wage and proper housing for estate workers should not only be high on the agenda in the next general elections, workers must send out a clear message that the present Parliament is largely irrelevant to them and they want a new and more relevant Parliament to be elected instead.
If the workers can remove the traditional two-thirds majority of the Barisan Nasional in the next general elections, then they can set their sights higher in the ensuing general elections whether in the year 2,004 or 2,005, i.e for a complete change of government. But this depends on whether we can elect a relevant Parliament in the next elections first.