I refer to the Malaysiakini report Jeyakumar: The minister did lie.
Kudos, to Dr D Jeyakumar and Jerit for calling the bluff of Plantation and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok. After almost two centuries of toiling in the plantations of this nation, plantation workers are still far from being recognised for their contribution to this nation.
During the colonial period, their wages were kept artificially low in order for the plantation owners to reap almost 100 % in profits. The wages of the plantation workers were directly linked to production and the fluctuating commodity prices in the international market.
Wage negotiations were always in favour of the capitalists. Plantation workers rarely saw the benefits of profits enjoyed by the plantation owners. They were provided deplorable housing, scant medical facilities and appalling educational facilities which greatly affected the quality of their lives.
The plantations were in the periphery of towns and the movement of workers was severely restricted. This regimented way of life was also inculcated to provide a docile and steady supply of labour to the plantations.
Today, I see the same mentality in the perpetuation of plantation workers' plight. The production output of the plantation sector is still being used as means to justify the wages of plantation workers.
Today, palm oil prices are at an all time high to the extent that the industry was required to pay windfall tax. However, this did not commensurate with an increase in their workers' wages. To add salt to the wound, the National Union of Plantation Workers has not refuted the latest claims of the minister and I doubt it ever will.
The NUPW, which is supposed to safeguard the rights of all plantation workers, is alarmingly silent. Again, the plantation workers are being neglected by the very body which is supposed to protect their rights.
Collective agreements made between the Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association (Mapa) and the NUPW to determine workers' wages have never been to the advantage of the workers due to NUPW's poor bargaining skills and its tendency to be a lap dog of Mapa.
The apathy of the Malaysian government in dealing with the plight of plantation workers is very telling. The workers are still suffering, earning incomes way below the poverty line, not being accorded adequate housing and finally being dispossessed once the plantations have been converted into housing development projects.
They become destitute and are not able to integrate with mainstream society. The government has continuously failed to implement policies (ala NEP) which may have improved their lives.
What is most frustrating is the fact that the exploitation of Malaysian plantation workers is perpetuated by the very government which claims to have the welfare of its people at heart.