Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Estate Workers’ Plight

Former estate worker Ramalingam shares his stories with the BRATs

Ramalingam Thiruamalai’s family has been working at a rubber estate in Sg Rinchang for four generations. In 1994, Ramalingam, along with 61 other families, lost their livelihood when 1,300 acres of the rubber estates they were working in was sold off to private developers. The loss of land meant that they not only lost their jobs, but they also lost a place to stay.

Most of the families relocated to the city, leaving only 10 families in the remaining 50 acres of land. Since the estate ceased functioning, Ramalingam has been fighting for alternate housing with the help of full-time activist. Arutchelvan who is the secretary general of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia.

“It is very hard for these people to get alternate housing because of two reasons,” says Arutchelvan. “The first is they have no source of income, so it is hard for them to get loans from the bank. Rubber tapping is considered a skilled job, and once they lose their job, it is very hard for them to get one outside of the estate,” The only jobs that most former estate workers could find are usually as security guards for the men, and as sweepers or factory workers for the women.

“When the estates close down, the employers will evict the workers, regardless of whether or not they have another place to live. Maybe even cut off the water and electricity supply,” says Arutchelvan.

“Rubber plantation workers have been facing problems since the very beginning,” says Ramalingam.“If, in the past, the problems used to revolve around their low wages, now, the issue they face is the lack of housing when the estates close down.” says Arutchelvan. He adds that it is the company’s social responsibility to look after the well-being of their former workers.

The current house they are left with is not suitable for living, especially for the younger members of the family who are in school. It is in bad condition.

However, after 12 long years of fighting for alternate housing, Ramalingam and his family can now look forward to moving into their new flats. Arutchelvan says that they can finally move in to their new low-cost flats as soon as the documentation are finalised.

“This whole problem can be avoided if the Government implements and enforces a law that states that employers should provide alternate housing of plantation workers,” says Arutchelvan.

Evidently, this is a fair move as the ex-plantation workers find it hard not only to look for a job but for housing as well when the company decides to sell off the land.

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