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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Worker suicide - economist urges review of labour policy


An economist has demanded that Human Resources Minister M Saravanan address the issue of foreign workers not being paid their wages by reviewing the country's existing labour machinery.

This came after a Pakistani worker killed himself on April 17 allegedly due to not being paid his wages for five months.

Speaking to Malaysiakini, economist and former top civil servant Ramon Navaratnam (above) said the tragedy reflected badly on the country's labour system.

"A life has been lost and there could be more lives lost, so how do we change the position?"

"The minister needs to answer what can be done to overcome this dangerous and serious problem of people losing their lives because they are not paid on time," he said.

"We need to develop a network of feedback for all local and foreign workers who are not paid on time for the ministry to follow up," he said.

"With the information technology of today, anyone with a handphone can immediately (lodge a report with the authority) in case they are not paid. This can prevent the same tragedy from happening again and to get the signal across that the government does not tolerate unpaid wages," he said.

"There is no excuse for not paying workers their living wages [...] ask the employer how would be if they were in his shoes. It's devastating, terrible, unforgivable," said Navaratnam, who is chairperson of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute for Public Policy Studies.

The tragedy reflected poor enforcement and something amiss with the reporting system within the ministry or its relevant agencies, he added

"There must be a hotline number so that the workers can call in and apply for help. The whole machinery should be reviewed, revised and made more stringent with enforcement increased and a public feedback system established," he said.

"All foreign embassies and high commissions must have an information desk to obtain feedback from their citizens and report cases to the Malaysian government," he added.

Not convinced

On Monday, Malaysiakini reported that Shahzad Ahmed was found dead at a worksite along Jalan Ampang on April 17, after apparently taking his own life.

The late Shahzad Ahmed 

Prior to his death, the 30-year-old Pakistani national posted videos on the social media platform TikTok, where he accused his employer of failing to pay him his salary for five months.

Wangsa Maju police chief Ashari Abu Samah said investigations showed that the company did not pay the documented worker from December 2020 to April 2021 due to financial problems during the movement control order.

Radha Krishnan, the chief executive officer of the company, Landseal Sdn Bhd, had told Malaysiakini that the company would bear the cost to ship Shahzad's remains to Pakistan and provide a goodwill payment to his family.

Amna Baloch, the Pakistani high commissioner to Malaysia was also quoted as saying the backdated wages would be paid to the family.

The Labour Department is currently investigating this case under the Employment Act 1995. A department official said such investigations are usually completed within a week.

Navaratnam said he was not convinced that the employer suffered financial constraints due to the MCO. 

"How could they afford that (pay the backdated wages to the family)? They can't be bankrupt," questioned Ramon. 

"If everyone gives excuses and no one cares (about the welfare of the workers), we must push them to care. That's the role of the government and the government has let down the people," said Navaratnam further.

In cases where employers cannot afford to pay wages due to financial difficulties, he said the government should introduce a policy that could help both the employers and the employees. - Mkini

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