EMPOWEREMENT WORK IS NOT BUILT ON A DAY.
CHERISHING THE DENUDIN ESTATE WORKERS FREE HOUSES VICTORY
Each one of them signed four pieces of document in front of Inch Kenneth representative Hussain Kadir and myself, PSM’s Secretary General as well as Kajang Councillor. The agreement signing was held at my Semenyih office. They signed with various styles; some with shaky hands, some with blurred eyesight and some just scribbling something. They all had a smile in their face as one of their biggest headache – in getting a permanent house has been resolved.
This agreement was indeed fast. I have never come across a settlement agreement in housing which just took less than 2 years to conclude. Most housing struggle for plantation workers takes at least a decade to be solved. Even that is only after court battles, fighting gangsters, blockade, demonstrations and going to lock-ups, among some of the actions.
Credit to this settlement besides to the workers, PSM and CDC activist, should also go to the PR Selangor State Government as well as to Inch Kenneth who was quite forthcoming in resolving the issue. Both these parties played an important role in addressing the key issue which is housing for the estate workers and resolving it.
In May 2011, Inch Kenneth which was managed by Golden Hope and then later by Sime Darby handed termination notices to the last remaining 9 harvesters in the estate. They agreed to pay them retrenchment benefits as well as ex-gratia. The amount did not come much. The workers demands were that they should be given a permanent house and relocation to their temples and church.
Inch Kenneth went further to sell the land to UEM and were quite confident of resolving the workers housing issue. They thought that the workers were ready to take some compensation and leave. They failed to grasp the issue that the main settlement and question in hand is housing . Where are these people going to go?
They were initially trying to pay off the 9 workers a higher sum of compensation. On one occasion they came with the BN State Assemblyman Johan with cheque book ready. The workers were not ready to be bought over. Inch Kenenth attempt to get vacant possession further failed when Selangor State Government especially its Plantation Exco YB Xavier jayakumar refused to sign the land conversion under the Estate land Board unless housing for the workers are resolved. Inch Kenneth were then trying to convince the workers to take a bigger sum of compensation and find housing outside.
On the workers demand, we were fighting for houses for 21 families including those who have retired but still staying in the estate awaiting a permanent solution to their housing issue. Meanwhile the new owner UEM attempt to do soil testing in the area failed when workers stopped the new owners work. The workers then erected signboard 100 meters surrounding their houses stopping all work within this area. UEM frustrated with this then took Inch Kenneth to court. UEM also in a meeting at YB Xavier office revealed that Inch Kenneth does indeed have another 14 acres of land nearby and demanded that Inch Kenneth built houses for their workers there. It was then did Inch Kenneth work seriously on solving the issue by finally building houses in their land.
The agreement then was prepared by Inch Kenneth lawyers while workers lawyer K.Arumugam helped to consolidate the workers demand. The final agreement signed today was a pretty fair deal. The workers can stay in the current house without any disturbance until the new houses are being built. The workers will not incur any cost as all cost will be borne by the company. Inch Kenneth will also ensure proper roads and other infrastructure to be built. They will also provide land for the construction of temple and church.. Meanwhile a buffer zone of 150 meters from the workers line side will be observed and UEM will not be allowed to use the current 2 main roads used by the ex-workers, for their construction work. A full settlement agreement for the house (S&P) will be signed in 3 months time to seal the agreement.
If all disputes can be resolved so easy, wouldn’t live be easier. It is because of this that the PSM is working hard with other plantation groups to get the Selangor State Government to enact laws to protect the plantation workers when the estate goes for development. Currently the Selangor State Government has formed a task force to look into these issues in to enact laws to protect plantation workers facing evictions.
Many workers held my hand tightly when they thanked me for resolving this issues. It was without a doubt, the four generation of sacrifice of their fore-mother and fathers, added with their own generation’s resolution to fight for a house which resulted in this victory. I remember 23 years ago, when I first step into this estate as a student from UKM belonging to a group of dedicated students fighting for the well being of estate workers then called JKMI( later it became the backbone to form CDC, JERIT as well as played a key role in forming PSM. ).
I remembered we erected a tent in the middle of the estate and stayed in it. The Estate management then refused to allow us to do a program in the estate while the estate workers were afraid to allow us to stay in their houses. We built a tent and stayed in it. Soon some workers came to offer us food and refreshments. During that short time, we took the opportunity to do education program for their children. That night the police came with the instruction of the estate Management to evict us. To our surprise, many workers came to our aid. They told the police that they invited us and we on our end, said that we will only leave if the estate workers tell us to leave, not the plantation owners. The police left when the workers stood by us.
Since then we have worked hand in hand with the estate workers. I remember involving with a strike when water was disrupted and on wage disputes. It has been a long road. Victory such as this keeps us going and enforces our commitment that there is no short cuts rather than empowering the workers to fight for what is rightfully theirs.
S.Arutchelvan 135 pm 9-1-2013