Sarawak government should defend Sarawakians’ rights to decent work and fair pay under SCORE

DAP Sarawak refers to the recent peaceful protests involving almost 1,000 local workers at Samalaju Industrial Park, Bintulu on Monday, January 28, 2013, over employers’ neglect of their welfare and unfair termination practices in favor of hiring foreign workers as replacements. [1] Given that the Samalaju Industrial Park is part of SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy), DAP Sarawak insists that the Sarawak Government take responsibility and defend Sarawakian workers’ rights to decent work and fair pay, and remedy their concerns as listed below.

Firstly, the Sarawak Government must investigate and remedy the way in which the welfare of local Sarawakian workers at Samalaju has been neglected. The Borneo Post has reported that many of the retrenched workers did not have proper employment contracts. Some workers were neither registered with the EPF (Employer’s Provident Fund) nor were they covered by SOCSO (Social Security Organisation) for the duration of their service. Most of the retrenched workers were terminated without notice, and those who were terminated were given only two choices: either to accept their service termination or stay on to receive reduced wages.[2] These practices reflect poorly on the Sarawak Government in that it would allow such slipshod labor practices to go on at its very own state-initiated development projects.

Secondly, the Sarawak Government must condemn the way in which Samalaju companies have deliberately brought in foreign workers to replace terminated local workers, and prioritized the welfare of foreign workers instead. During my two days there, I learned that local workers’ wages were reduced from an average of RM12 to RM6 per hour, while foreign workers are paid an average of RM20 per hour and provided better accommodations and transport to work. I also learned that while companies had offered 2 to 3-month-long skill-training programmes for foreign workers, local workers never received such benefits. These practices are clearly discriminatory and a slap in the face of Sarawakians who deserve equal pay and treatment to their foreign counterparts.

DAP Sarawak notes that these issues are not new, given that local workers at Samalaju had also protested earlier in July 2012 due to poor working and living conditions and preferential treatment given to foreign (Chinese) workers.[3] During the protests, some local workers had told the press that they were given only 1 meal a day and that the food was not hygienically prepared. They also complained that clean water supply was only available from 4am to 7am and from 4pm to 7pm each day, and those working late were unable to take baths. Bathing water was also taken from the pond near the workers’ camp. It is unclear whether these issues have been resolved to date, and whether the companies involved have been fined or penalized for these earlier cases of mistreatment.

DAP Sarawak stresses that local Sarawakian workers deserve better treatment than this. Many of the local workers at Samalaju came from all over rural Sarawak in search of better jobs and livelihoods for their families. Some of the workers I spoke to said that they had even traveled back from Semenanjung Malaysia and were willing to work in harsher conditions in order to be close to their aging parents and school-going children. Some workers interviewed by Radio Free Sarawak said that they were lured by the promises of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud who had said that there would be many jobs available, only to be sorely disappointed by the current situation.[4] The workers I spoke to said that they had no desire to continue working in plantations, as the pay is very low at an average of RM16 a day (for 20 workdays a month) and even now they are being squeezed out of their jobs by foreign workers. It is already difficult enough to live with a job paying RM300 a month in rural Sarawak due to the rising cost of basic essentials. These workers came to Bintulu and Samalaju in hopes of better jobs and lives, but are now being threatened again by the influx of foreign workers recruited by their employers.

DAP Sarawak therefore calls upon the Sarawak Government to:

  • Officially condemn the discriminatory practices of the errant employers at Samalaju Industrial Park, and investigate and prosecute employers who have operated in clear violation of Malaysian labor standards;

  • Call for the reinstatement of Samalaju Industrial Park’s local workers and the issuance of salaries, perks (including EPF and SOCSO) and training equivalent to those received by their foreign counterparts;

  • Cap the numbers of foreign workers who may be employed on all SCORE projects (estimated around 8,000 persons within the Samalaju area);

  • Open an official inquiry into the living and working conditions of workers on all SCORE projects and;

  • Immediately issue and uphold a policy stipulating the minimum percentage of local workers to be employed at all SCORE projects

  • Likewise review all labor policies and practices across sectors to prioritize the hiring of local workers, in order to ensure that Sarawakians will have guaranteed employment opportunities instead of being forced to migrate elsewhere such as Semenanjung Malaysia in search of work.

We call on the Sarawak Government not to neglect the well-being of hardworking and deserving Sarawakian workers, both semi-skilled and skilled, in the pursuit of keeping Sarawak as an attractive environment for direct investment and economic development. If the Sarawak Government continues to distance itself from the Samalaju situation, it is akin to indirectly condoning discrimination against and abuse of Sarawakian workers. If the Sarawak Government continues to turn a blind eye to the current and increasing trends of foreign workers displacing Sarawakian workers, then it is clearly unable to protect the welfare of its people and should be duly ‘rewarded’ in the upcoming GE13.

Sarawak jobs for Sarawakians!

Dr John Brian Anthony
Chairman of the Dayak Consultative Council and member of the DAP CEC
Media statement by Dr. John Brian Anthony in Bintulu, Sarawak on Thursday, 31st January 2013