The Malaysian Insider. 19th November 2009
By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Oil palm and rubber plantation workers are angry at Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok’s revelation that they are above the national poverty line.
Dompok told Parliament on Oct 19 that the net income of a oil palm harvester is about RM1,700 and a rubber tapper’s salary is about RM870 a month, when replying to a question from Mas Gading MP Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe.
He also said the income level of the workers were above the rural poverty line of RM720 a month and that they also enjoyed free facilities such as homes, medical care and pre-school education for their children.
Coordinator for the Plantation Workers Support Group M Sugumaran today blasted Dompok’s statement and called it a “blatant lie”.
“It is a blatant lie and it has been going on for a long time. The fact is misleading and confusing.
“The statement by the minister is in bad faith as it will (be) the reason for the people in the plantation to lose out the benefits given by the government to those who earn below the poverty line,” he told reporters during a press conference in parliament here,” he said.
Sugumaran added that his support group had met with workers from oil plantations and rubber estates in Selangor and Perak.
“The workers were furious that minister said that they are getting more RM1,000; they said he should have just said we are getting RM3,000 and more.
“Our immediate study has shown that the average wage of a rubber tapper, oil palm fruit cutter and common labourer is less than RM700, which is well below the poverty line.
“The date we have clearly shows that the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities is committing a big fraud and they are trying to close the real problems of workers are living from hand to mouth,” he said.
Earlier, 10 plantation workers together with coordinators from Jerit and the support group met with Sungai Siput MP Dr D Jeyakumar in parliament.
Jeyakumar pointed out that is harder for locals to land jobs due to high competition from foreign workers.
“At this moment, most of the rubber estates have been converted to oil palm estates and the fruit cutting activities have been given to contractors who use foreign workers. Therefore there is high competition between locals and foreigners as foreigners are paid much less.
“The only job that is available nowadays is what we call a ‘weeder’ or common worker where the worker has to spray the fertiliser or treat the plants.
“And their monthly pay is more or less RM500 a month including the advance which is RM80 a month. So the net salary of the worker is only about RM420 and not RM1,700,” he explained in the press conference.