Monday, March 15, 2010

Myanmar workers laid off without notice

Myanmar workers laid off without notice
Monday, March 15th, 2010 12:12:00

ALL ROUND MISERY: Myanmar workers live in shabby conditions — Pic: HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

KUALA LUMPUR: In Myanmar, US$850 (about RM2,900) is enough to sustain a person comfortably for a year, and that's what Zar Ni Swe from Yangon paid to an agent to get a job as a waitress in a restaurant in Malaysia.

But on Feb 15, the second day of the Chinese New Year, Ni Swe, along with 25 other Myanmar waiters and waitresses at Jogoya Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, were given a week's notice that their services were no longer required.

This heart-breaking news was conveyed to them in a memo which gave no reason nor was it signed.

On top of that, the memo had more bad news — the first part dealt with Myanmar waiters who had savings, and the second part for those who didn't have money.

In the case of Ni Swe, she was asked to pay a RM450 levy to the restaurant, also a month's salary of RM150 as compensation for her "previous mistakes" (no matter whether she was at fault or not) and also immigration costs of RM150.

Those with no savings were told to work for another company until they paid their dues to get their passports back.

Ni Swe, who worked for almost four years, had the courage to ask the restaurant management why she and her countrymen and women were given a week's notice when it should have been a three months'. No satisfactory answer was given.

Allegedly too, the restaurant had not paid their February salary.

What followed were frantic attempts to seek help from their agents in Myanmar ("We cannot help") and Malaysia ("We can't help too"), embassy of Myanmar ("Call your agents"), the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia or Suhakam ("Wait for labour office to investigate"), police ("Call your agents") and the Federal Territory Labour Department ("Give us some time to investigate").

The hostel where Ni Swe and another 69 Myanmars were staying were also in deplorable condition.

The hostel is a four-storey building at Jalan Changkat Thamby Dollah. The restaurant and storeroom are on the first floor, the male Myanmar workers live on the second floor and the females live on the third floor.

With so many cramped inside each living room, the air is stuffy. With limited number of fans, the environment is perpetually hot, humid and uncomfortable and it's hard to imagine how anyone can have a peace of mind under such conditions.

The staircase is cluttered with personal stuff that could not be accommodated in their living space. The walls of the staircase are also stained by urine.

Each worker is provided a thin mattress and they sleep on double-deckers.

Cut-throat employers will be booked, says Labour Dept

PETALING JAYA: Local employers are still fleecing foreign workers of levies from their salaries — despite the Labour Department warning employers about a year ago.

Federal Territory director Khamis A.R. Majid said the department was viewing the matter seriously.

“We witnessed numerous cases where employers were still deducting levies from the foreign workers’ salaries under unlawful terms,” he said.

Last April 1, the Labour Department had issued a circular stating that employers could continue to deduct levies from foreign workers’ wages only until their permit expired for the year.

On renewal of the permit, employers should bear the levy cost for foreign workers with no further deductions made for levy purposes.

The circular also states that employers are not permitted to deduct wages for the levy payment for workers recruited after April 1, 2009.

Until the new decision on Double Levy payment is made, the rates remain unchanged.

The annual levy for foreign workers can range from RM360 (domestic help and agriculture) to RM1,800 (services).

The circular, dated April 20, 2009 and signed by Labour Department director-general Datuk Ismail Abdul Rahim, was issued to business operators as well as foreign embassies in Malaysia.

Khamis said in the latest case, the department had to step in when 26 Myanmar workers from a KL-based Japanese buffet restaurant cried foul upon learning that their salaries were deducted by their employer for levy purposes, among other things.

“In the Myanmar case, the workers also claimed they were laid off without notice, and only given a week’s notice to move out of their hostel. This is a serious case because there have been too many cases of employers taking advantage of foreign workers and tarnishing the country’s good image,” he said.

“Rest assured we will take action against local employers pulling such stunts.”

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) senior industrial relations officer, Peter Kandiah, who is helping the Myanmar workers, including getting their passports back from their employers, has called for the Human Resources Ministry to step up efforts against errant employers.

"It's too easy for local employers to dupe foreign workers because too many times, these foreigners don't know how, who or where to turn to for assistance," he said, when met at the FT Labour Department office last Thursday.

"The ministry's system is not effective enough even to protect local workers, much less foreign labourers."

How The Malay Mail got the action going

CHAOTIC: FT Labour officers and the Myanmar workers in front of the restaurant last Thursday. Pic: ASHRAF SHAMSUL AZLAN

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malay Mail had received a tip-off that the 26 Myanmar workers had been sacked by Jogoya Restaurant.
Our team had gone to the restaurant last Wednesday to seek clarification but to no avail.

On Thursday, the workers were brought by countryman Yan Naing Tun from an NGO called Burma Campaign Malaysia to the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) to seek help from its senior industrial relations officer Peter Kandiah, accompanied by The Paper That Cares.

Kandiah led the group to the Federal Territory Labour Department office at Wisma Perkeso in Jalan Ampang to state their case. The same day, the department sent five officers to the restaurant to get back the workers' passports but were unable to meet the management.

Soon after, the restaurant manager was called to the FT Labour Department office and was told to return the passports, refund the deducted levies, to pay wages to the workers until today, and also provide their return air tickets.

The restaurant management met the department officers on March 12 to return the passports, and negotiate the department's demands.

On Friday, the management said they will provide air tickets for those who worked three years and above, and will only pay wages up to February. However, if both sides are unable to agree, the case will be brought to the Labour Court.

When contacted last night, Zar Ni Swe, one of the 26 Myanmar workers, said they hoped to get their passports today.
source: malaymail,