16 Exploited Indian Workers Repatriated from Malaysia

On 29 August 2009, 12 workers descended from the Dhanbad-Aleppey Express at Dhanbad station and were warmly greeted by a delegation of AICCTU and CPI(ML) activists. All around, the mood was celebratory – but the workers’ drawn faces, with unkempt beards, told a tale of the harrowing time they (along with four other workers from UP) had suffered in Malaysia.
Barring Lakhan Mahto who had been working in Malaysia since 15 February 2007, the other 11 had arrived at the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur from Chennai on 13 February 2008, and started work on 14 February itself. On 16 February four workers from UP also joined them at work. They had all been lured to Malaysia on the assurance that they would be paid Rs. 10, 000 per month at the Everline Engineering SDN, BHD-709063-X at Kuala Lumpur.
These workers were put to work 12 hours a day (with no rest days or holidays) on the hard job of laying an Electro Hyro Transmission Line. When they started work, they were not given any appointment letter, and their passport and visa were also confiscated. They were given a house and a cook, but no money whatsoever. Food too was very irregular. As a result, it was common for the workers to go hungry for two days at a time. The company provided no medical treatment when workers fell ill.
By 14 January 2009, the workers found that for 11 months’ work, they had only received three months worth of salary, they protested strongly and struck work from 18 January onwards. The Everline management reacted by evicting the 16 workers from their house and relocating them at a store room nearby where they had to do night-guard duty at nights and menial jobs including cleaning of toilets at Everline Director P Indran’s house in the day. For all 16 men, only 10 kilos of rice was provided every two days.
Meanwhile, Deglal Mahto and Sukhdev Mahto used the latter’s mobile phone to call Comrade Puran Mahto, CPI(ML) leader from Bagodar, and told him their nightmare. In the 5-6 months after 18 January, CPI(ML) and AICCTU repeatedly approached the Jharkhand Governor and Giridih authorities in vain, urging them to ensure that the Central Government repatriate the workers safely at the earliest. Eventually the CPI(ML) Bagodar MLA Vinod Singh sent an email to the Indian High Commission in Malaysia. The High Commission replied on 23 July. On receiving this information, Deglal Mahto and one of the workers from UP approached the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on 27 July. The High Commission authorities, however, gave the workers a letter asking them to continue working for Everline; if not, they said, each worker must himself produce Rs. 16-17000 in order to be sent back to India. 
When Deglal and the worker from UP returned from their visit to the High Commission, Deglal was called to the house of P Indran that night and subjected to death threats for having dared to approach the High Commission. Fearing for their lives, the workers abandoned their belongings and ran into the nearby jungle of oil palm trees. They remained in the jungle for 24 hours without food or water. On the night of 28 July, a private security battalion came to the jungle, arrested them and took them to the local police station and later to jail.
In jail, all 16 workers were stripped, their underwear taken away, and their mobile and other belongings confiscated; they were beaten up. After an entire month in jail, the 16 workers were released on 27 August 09 and taken to Kuala Lumpur airport where their passport, tickets etc were given to them and the workers returned to Indian soil (Chennai).
The workers told CPI(ML) activists that 8 months wages for their work on the transmission line were still due. Apart from this, they also felt that wages and compensation were owed to them for the 6 months of labour in the store room and P Indran’s house, starved of adequate food and drink, as well as for the one month in jail. They wished to go to court to seek justice in this matter.
The CPI(ML) raised the issue that the Indian workers had been taken to Malaysia on a tourist visa rather than on a contract-work-visa, thereby enabling the Indian authorities to disclaim all responsibility. The Central Government, by turning a blind eye to this violation, is tacitly allowing trafficking of workers. The Government must intervene to ensure that migrant workers to other countries are issued contract-work-visas and the Government must take full responsibility for protection of their interests. Both countries must set up Complaint Centres so that workers can freely and easily lodge complaints and receive swift redress.