Construction site deaths highlight plight of migrant workers

Gabrielle Chong | Mar 14, 09 2:57pm

The problems facing migrant workers have been brought to the forefront again following the gruesome death of two Bangladeshi workers at a construction site in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, last Sunday.

The two Bangladeshi workers were crushed to death by a ton of concrete bricks that fell from the 22nd floor of the almost-completed UOA Bangsar Tower after a crane cable snapped. The site is just a stone’s throw away from Malaysiakini office in Bangsar Utama.

According to eye witnesses of the Sunday afternoon accident, both bodies were smashed beyond recognition. One of them was also decapitated. One of those killed, named Hassan, had been employed by UOA Holdings Bhd Sdn for 10 years. The other, Ali, had been employed by Meng Kei Construction Sdn Bhd for five years. Both were documented workers with work permits. According to site manager Zaidi Zainuddin, both bodies have been returned to Bangladesh.

“The company has also offered incentives to families of the two deceased, while the rest of the compensation will be decided by their insurance company. “We have stopped using the crane that we rented from a sub-contractor. The public have also been prohibited from walking around the area”, said Zaidi. However, that assurance has not erased the trauma imprinted on all those who have been affected by the incident.

According to a co-worker of the two killed, Miroh 24, he said the crane cables currently in use are very thin, and that he fears for his own safety as he still works at the same site everyday. He added that he earns RM35 daily and is not entitled to any form of payment when on leave. Incidents like this one are not uncommon in the country, as Malaysiakini finds out after contacting various migrants’ rights activists and organisations.

All remarked that migrant workers in Malaysia were susceptible to all forms of exploitation as well as safety and healthy hazards, with little chance of compensation in cases of injury or death, and that whatever forms of compensation were often menial.

The following are their comments: Irene Fernandez, director of Tenaganita

There are some rights which are guaranteed for all workers under labour laws and the Industrial Relations Act. For migrant workers, however, these rights are determined or taken away based on their work permits and the status of their countries of origin.

Following the fatal accidents at the UOA Bangsar Tower, migrant construction workers have a big problem. Firstly, most of them are subcontracted and undocumented. If they are undocumented, they do not have any kind of right to compensation or medical treatment at all, which is very discriminatory, because labour rights should not be determined by documentation status. One reason for this is that it is the employers who keep the work permits of these migrant workers. If the employer does not renew the work permit, the worker will have knowledge of it because the employer keeps his passport as well. And so, when accidents happen, the worker cannot go for treatment because employer keeps both his work permit and passport. So far, little action has been taken by Home Ministry against those who hold migrant workers’ passports, which include employers as well as recruiting agencies. As for now, migrant workers are covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Scheme, which is rather archaic and insufficient.

Under this scheme, the maximum compensation for death is RM18,000. Such is the value given to human life. In fact, I find it discriminatory that migrant workers are covered under the Workmen’s Compensation Scheme at all. We have long departed from this scheme and adopted the Social Security Scheme for Malaysian workers instead, as it offers better chances and fairer compensation. And even if the migrant worker or his family succeeds in claiming under the Workmen’s Compensation Scheme, there are many deductions to be made especially in regards to expenses in sending remains of a deceased person home. At the end of the day, it is a very difficult process for the claimant. In addition, it is entirely up to the discretion of the employer to lodge a report regarding injuries and death at the workplace. After that, officers from the Occupational Safety and Health Department (JKKK) under the Human Resources Ministry will investigate and see whether the place is safe or not. As for the worker, he is unable to lodge any reports if he does not hold his own passport.

A Balasubramaniam, vice-president (private sector) of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress

Generally, labour laws in Malaysia apply to all. That is, migrant workers enjoy the same rights as local workers and are entitled to the same claims in labour courts and industrial courts. rawang anti high tension tower

In fact the highest court in Malaysia, the Court of Appeal, has ruled in the case of 126 Bangladeshi workers versus Chong Hwa Plastic that all workers in Malaysia enjoy the same rights regardless of their citizenship. We must applaud our government for having comprehensive labour laws. However, much improvement can be made in terms of implementing and promoting awareness of these acts, especially in ensuring that employers report industrial injuries and deaths to the JKKK as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1994. Employers are also required to insure all their employees.

Failing to do so may incur a maximum penalty of RM20,000 in fines or two years’ imprisonment. However, as the majority of migrant workers’ employers are in the small-medium industries, most of them are not aware of these laws. As for the migrant workers, the best for them to assert their rights is to join existing trade unions in their respective sectors, even though present laws in Malaysia do not allow them to hold positions in these unions or to start their own unions.

B Renuka, human rights lawyer

There are countless obstacles for the migrant worker who seeks just redress for injuries incurred at the workplace.

Firstly, current compensation schemes are insufficient. In the case of the two Bangladeshi workers who died at Bangsar Utama, the maximum compensation that the employers would have to dispense to their families would probably be about RM10,000 for each deceased person, which is a pittance. bangladeshi worker

Secondly, the obvious and best way to seek large amounts of damages if by pursuing personal injury in the civil courts, but civil suits always incur great legal expenses that the migrant worker cannot afford.

Thirdly, even if the migrant worker succeeds in bringing his case to a labour court, the litigation process will drag on for a long time due to his migrant status and the red tape involved.

Fourthly, if the case drags on for three, four, or five years, as has happened, the migrant worker would have long been deported to his homeland before his case has even concluded. It is far easier for the employer to issue a check out for the migrant worker and have him deported to his homeland than to let him conclude his case.

As for undocumented workers, their illegality often hinders them from seeking just compensation. While the Employment Act in Malaysia accords equal rights to both documented and undocumented workers, the policies of the Human Resource Ministry do not hold the same. At the end of the day, these policies reflect the attitude of our government: that of treating migrant workers as human lives that have contributed enormously to the Malaysian economy, but as mere commodities.

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