Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'Trafficked men' toil at new palace

Source: (By Hazlan Zakaria, 19/10/2010)
In yet another twist to the new national palace construction saga, a group of workers emerged from the woodwork of the controversy-ridden project, claiming to be victims of human trafficking. The grouses of these masonry specialists from China is that they have not been paid their wages the last two months, after being taken to work on the project by their original employer, who then upped and disappeared. "We have no money to eat. We now survive by borrowing from local workers at the site," group spokesperson Zhang Baowen told a press conference in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, today. Eight of them showed up at the press conference, out of their original group of 12. "Four from our group ran away because they could not bear the situation any longer," Zhang said. He said the masons were enticed from China to work in construction projects in Libya, at wages of between RM3,200 and RM3,700 a month, a lot more than the RM1,800 to RM2,300 a month they earned in China. They were required to pay the agent who recruited them RM7,000 each. Their passports had stamps in Arabic, purportedly entry visas for Libya.
Tricked to come to Malaysia
However, at the last minute, they were rerouted to Malaysia with the promise of work and higher wages amounting to RM65,000 if they worked for two years. But once in Malaysia, Zhang said, they were only paid RM2,300 a month, similar to what they made in their homeland. Originally, 30 of them were recruited in Guangdong province by a Malaysian company, Guan Ming Construction Sdn Bhd, and told to make their own way to Macao. The workers also showed a copy of the contract that they signed with Guan Ming Construction. From there, they were flown to Malaysia, where they were issued with legal immigration i-Cards in the name of another company, NF Renovation and Ironworks Sdn Bhd. Whether the work permits are legal were questioned by a Chinese Embassy official, who was also present and had met with the complaining workers. This was because, he said, the workers had left China on tourist exit visas. The official made this observation after scrutinising their passports and said that under China's immigration law, Chinese nationals cannot work abroad unless they have specific authorisation and leave under the appropriate visas. After their arrival in Malaysia on July 31, the workers started working for a construction company, owned by a Chinese national, in Old Klang Road before being told in early October that their permits had expired. They were then coerced into paying their employer in order to renew their permits. "We had to sign another contract with our employer, saying that we owe him RM 14,000 in order to be able to extend our work permits," Zhang said. He explained that 12 of them were sent to the new palace construction site on Oct 7 and they have been working there ever since, with their salaries since August still unpaid. The Chinese Embassy official, who recorded the details of the workers, said he would look into their problem.
'Police harassed complainants'
Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, who arranged the press conference for the disgruntled workers, said he was told of the matter by an informant. "I want to ask the government how these workers could have been legalised. How can this happen at a high security worksite such as the new palace project?" asked Lim. He also said he made sure that Chinese Embassy officials were present today to protect the workers, since foreign workers cheated of their wages in earlier cases he had exposed to the media "have all disappeared". Lim also said reporters who accompanied him to interview Indonesian workers in a similar incident earlier were recently questioned by police. This, he said, was yet another case of police harassing those who complained, instead of investigating the project contractors responsible.
The controversial new palace project at Jalan Duta has been called into question for its ballooning cost as well as allegations that illegal workers are employed in its construction, many of whom claimed they were not paid for work done and alleged other abuses as well. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has also questioned the awarding of the contract, purportedly, an unqualified crony company.

No comments: