Monday, April 1, 2013

Tumbuk Estate – From ruins to settlement yet another Maika fiasco

Collecting their cheque
Tumbuk Estate is located near the fishing village of Tanjung Sepat. It is a scenic view if one is to drive there as one would pass by the Morib beach as well as a stretch of mangrove trees there. During high tide, the sea water would splash along the road. Beautiful and breath-taking. But this scenic value gets distorted when one actually goes close enough to see the housing of the plantation workers who lived in Tumbuk Estate along the same road.

Tumbuk estate was at one time owned by Maika Holdings- the investment arm of MIC. One would expect a model estate since MIC is supposed to be the vanguard of the Indians. Yet Tumbuk estate remains pathetic. Except for the school, the houses for the estate workers are in bad shape, they do not have inbuilt toilets, drainage broken and houses depressing. I always wondered why didn’t MIC make this their model estate with the best facilities. Then they could have challenged other plantation companies to do so. The situation is similar when the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) took a case against the Planters MAPA on the question of monthly wages. One of the reason for NUPW to lose the Industrial case against MAPA was they themselves did not implement monthly wages in the estates which they owned themselves. Therefore it is difficult to champion the plight of the plantation workers if MIC itself is not prepared to do so.
On 8 April 2006, Maika Holdings and National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) signed an agreement for a housing scheme for the plantation workers. The scheme is to build semi-d houses for 29 remaining families in Ladang Tumbuk. The agreement said that Maika shall commence construction of the houses in April 2008.Workers were also shown several layout plans of the houses to be built. The beautiful agreement had everything in it except it did not have a date of completion for the proposed housing scheme. The houses never got build and workers remained in their deplorable quarters ever since. Not only the houses got not build, MIC too faded from the scene.
In 2010, Maika after several scandals and controversy was taken over by G-team. G Team under millionaire Gnanalingam had no patience. His task is to sell all assets of Maika Holdings and wind up the company. They told the workers that based on the agreement, there is nothing binding as there is no datelines. They offered the workers RM25,000 each. Take it or leave it and went on to sell pieces of the estate to individuals who were interested to buy. Meanwhile water was being disrupted to the workers quarters.

At this point of time, the mattes did get referred to the Selangor State Government under the excoship of YB Xavier. YB Xavier met 2 camps of workers and told them to decide which would they prefer-money or housing. This seems to be the offer on the table. Take the money and leave versus the group who wanted the initial agreement fulfilled. The following weeks ended with more in-fighting between these two groups.

It was at this time that PSM was approached. We went in at the time when the local Union leaders had already left the estates, when the people were divided into several camps and when they were under pressure from thugs to take the offer and leave.

More than half the workers took the Gteam offer of RM 25,000 and left the estate, leaving behind 12 families who were determined to get housing as the initial agreement stated. Since October 2010, the harassment was building up on the remaining 12 to take the offer. On 21 November 2011, water was completely cut off. PSM then went into the ground. Organised the workers. Lodged several police reports against the threats. Highlighted their plights in the media and held a protest outside the Labour Department.

The Labour department then held several meetings. They were not comfortable dealing with the more confrontational PSM and JERIT and wanted the workers to choose NUPW to handle the negotiations. The workers opted for PSM as PSM had been consistent in fighting. Meetings in the labour department was tough with both parties shouting and standing by their ground. A combination of street protest, police reports, negotiations as well as legal option in putting a caveat on the land was employed by the workers.

These actions finally restored the water supply and after a few more meetings, the agent dealing on behalf of the new land owners agreed to build houses for the workers. It was a victory of sorts and it took many meetings between PSM representatives and a company dealing with the owners of the land. Though the housing issue was sort of resolved but other matters such as the temple etc remained problematic.

The land owners managed to remove the caveat in the land but they had one more bigger obstacle that is to get the State Government approval to sub-divide the land as the land is more than 100acres. The land owners were now finding ways to solve the problems and have allocated 2 acres of the land to relocate the 12 families and the temple.

As the problems from the land owners slowly subsided, a new kind of problems began to prop up. The remaining 12 families started to split into two new groups and more mistrust and unnecessary miniature fights took place. On the one hand, the new owner cannot develop the land unless he solves the workers housing problem. The land owner claims that the workers kept shifting the goal post every time a settlement it at sight.

YB Xavier, the Pakatan Rakyat State Exco was firm in his dealings. He said that the Estate Land Board (ELB) approval will not be given unless the housing issues of the  12 remaining workers are resolved. A field visit by Xavier further shocked him. He could not understand how come the houses are in such a bad shape and had agreed to top up and do up the houses. He agreed to put State Government money in making built-in toilets, doing up the drainage etc. Xavier said that the State Government will make the houses in a liveable and humane condition.

PSM worked hard to work out a proper settlement so that the remaining workers future will be protected and they will not go into a limbo like the previous agreement.  After a few more meetings with Land Owners, lawyers etc, finally an agreement was reached and the signing took place on 26th. March 2013 at the Ladang Tumbuk school.

Checking everything in order
With this agreement, 12 workers will get free piece of land 2,600sf. 8 of them who participated in the earlier scheme and who have contributed were paid a further RM 25,000 each as well as will be given a renovated unit of their current houses. The temple will also be given 5,000 square feet of land free and a compensation of RM 40,000.

At the signing in ceremony many workers were relieved that their issue is finally settled. Besides the involvement of the State Government , many other people also played their part in solving the issue such as representatives from JERIT, legal advisers for the workers K.Arumugam and Pasupathi, the company dealing with the owner Tamil Selvam and Vannir Selvam. The workers put their signature on twenty copies of the agreement. It is hoped that this agreement will not end up like the previous one.

Arul, Penghulu and YB Xavier
It was a relief that the agreement has finally been signed in spite of the many internal conflict. Estate workers cannot go on fighting for housing every time an estate goes for development. There must be legislation protecting them. We are lucky in Selangor that the State Exco refused to approve unless housing rights for the workers are given. Similarly the estate workers future cannot be left in the hands of the State Exco perse but needs to be protected by a legislation. Najib’s father Tun Razak started the Workers House Ownership Scheme but less then 5% of plantation implemented this. Today Sime Darby which is owned by the Government is the biggest plantation company, yet when it comes to building houses for their workers, they just end of being stingy as the game of profits and returns rules their decision. They forget about the workers who put them there.

From ruins to settlement. This is the tale of Ladang Tumbuk. Soon the work to restore the houses is being done. The scenic view along this sea side village can only get better.

120am 1 April 2013

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