Monday, April 20, 2009

Estate Life

The Human Resources Minister Datuk S. Subramaniam said that he wants to make living and working in plantation as attractive as possible in order to attract Malaysians to work in estates. I always feel that the most neglected segment of the working community in Malaysia are:

1) Fishermen

2) Estate workers

3) Certain selected service sectors like waiters and waitresses

In the early 70s, living condition in the estate would be the envy of many people. It has its own housing quarters, electricity supply ‘for limited hours’, water supply, schools within its vicinity, temples, mosques and kuils and healthcare provided by the estate clinic. Foreign workers were unheard of. There are also provision shops run by the Chinese. In short, it was a self-substaining community. Estate managers then would go around their estates so that any complain can be handled personally. I used to be a visiting medical officer to a rubber estate and also a pineapple estate in Johor for many years.

Over the years, there have been rapid developments in the country, both in infrastructure and public amenities. However, the estates under private management have not kept up with the pace of development in the country. Most labour quarters are today in a dilapidated condition. The health clinic provides only very basic healthcare.

Today, most estate workers would avail themselves of the health clinic run by MOH. Most of the Tamil schools or Chinese schools are under-enrolled and basic conditions of the classrooms are much to be desired. Since estate land are privately owned, they are not given allocation by the government for improvement of infrastructure. We have a new breed of estate manager who may be better educated but often more aloof. The management often adopts the attitude that they are the boss and the manager at the estate level is only a representative of the establishment. Even very basic matter needs to be referred to the headquarters.

My personal experience in dealing with estate management has been one of frustration and disappointment. My former constituency, both at state and parliament level have estates with substantial numbers of Malaysian workers. Of course over the years, I can see that their numbers are gradually replaced by foreigners - Indonesians and Southern Indians. Generally, since conditions in estate has not improved in the last 30 years while the country has moved on, any abled-bodied Malaysians would choose jobs in estates when there is no other choice. The basic salary has not increased very much over the years. Even when the prices of commodity were at its highest level, the estate workers do not benefited very much in terms of better pay and better working conditions. Most estate management do not make any attempt to improve the quarters and the health clinics. 

As a wakil rakyat, it is common that I have to give allocations yearly to the estate workers, mostly to repair their places of worship and also grants to the schools for basic facilities like buying books. The management will not entertain even small allocations to help to repair places of worship and schools even though they are situated within the estates. They feel that this is the responsibility of the government.

If we want to improve the living condition in the estate, we need the cooperation of the estate management. The government needs to use the big stick:

1)   The time has come for the implementation of basic minimum wage for estate workers. Even in time of recession, public listed plantation companies do not lose money. In boom time, when they make super profit, the benefits to its workers is minimum. Hence, beside the basic pay, there should be an incentive allowance, which is tied to the productivity of the worker and the prices of the commodity. Most estate workers, even in boom time in 2006 and 2007 do not earn more than RM1,200. Most Malaysians today would not work in an estate with a remuneration of RM1,200.

2)   The estate management must be compelled to improve the quarters (what they call the labour line within the estate), improve health condition, water and electricity supply. Provisions must be made to carry their estate workers’ children to school. The lack of public transportation within the estate is a big obstacle to the children going to schools.

3)  The labour union representing the estate workers should show more democracy and transparency in dealing with the management of workers. There should be more discussion with the workers when the union signed any agreement with estate management since the agreement is binding on workers.

I would not agree that government should give peruntukan for the upgrading of the amenities in the estates as suggested by Datuk S. Subramaniam. Most of the bigger estates in this country have market value of billions and there is no reason for the government to subsidize them. We have to bear in mind that in bad times, estates still make money. Money given to the estate for upgrading of infrastructure should be given to rural areas and new villages. The management of the estate should bear the burden of improving the infrastructure within the estate.


DR SURESH said...

Dr Chua,

I certainly concur with you on this.But I wonder ,why didnt you voice out such important issues,concerning the society,when you were in power?

I swear said...

Dr Chua,

I agreed with Dr Suresh. Why now and not when we are able to do something? We always advise our young ones we should do something for our parents and grandparents when they are still alive and not when they are dead. Yet our leaders only point out faults and weakness when they are not able to help.

Worst, many are still in state of denial. And one thing, Dr Chua, pls remind your comrades that they reap what they sow. Many have been extremely greedy and power crazy.

呉 和豪 said...

Dear Dr Chua
I appreciate very much about your concern over the estate community , the problems pertaining to the estate comunity need to be addressed. It is high time for us to have a brainstorming session to tackle the problems.I can forseen rubber is going to becoming more and more important because of its excellent property.

I believe the experts from rubber research institute of Malaysia feed back to us the good ideal

Unknown said...

Like others, I am impress by Dr Chua able to understand so much in details of the Estate workers situation which are certainly not the same "class" as Dr Chua.

I guess MIC is not doing enough for the past 20 years, perhaps w/o what happen in 308, no one in UMNO will listen to repsonce to this issues which is clearly not affecting the Malays. Hate to be racist in this context but that seem to be the explanation!

l藍海 said...


prachai said...

The condition in the estates in Malaysia is a clear case of capitalism gone mad.

When it has become hard to exploit local people, the owners turn to exploitation of foreign workers. If you maximize profits, you have to minimize costs, chiefly through low wages. And there are enough human beings in Indonesia to ensure that wages do not increase, even as the price of commodity goes up.

While many would welcome your proposition, plantation owners would be very displeased with it. The argument usually revolves around somehting called "competitiveness" (it's ok to treate foreginers like commodities if it means more tax for the government). All this while, the social cost of gradual displacement of erstwhile residents of plantation estates have been hidden from us. But the consequences have finally materialized in the form of increased crime rates committed by an entire class of disenfranchised people.

I once visited the largest tea estate in Indonesia. During the war of liberation, the Indonesian Army seized the estate from the Dutch and turned it into a state property. It remains a state enterprise. The people working there are happy because their welfare is taken care of by the state. Although pay is not high, housing and utilities are free, and schools and clinics are available. It is probably similar to the model described by you.

To me there must be some limit to capitalism to ensure social stability. Let it run wild and it will make other extreme ideology gain ground (like the days of the KMT in China). All citizens must be made to feel that they have a stake in this country.

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