©The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: Many foreign workers hired to build the new RM800mil Istana Negara claim they have not been paid over the last three months despite working seven days a week.

Living in fear and frustration, the workers alleged they were exploited and cheated and held to ransom by their employers because many of them do not have work permits.

There are more than 1,000 migrant workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam hired by more than 130 sub-contractors who are involved in the Jalan Duta palace project.

Most of them stay in kongsi or long wooden houses near the construction site.

According to workers interviewed by The Star, some employers threatened to call the police when they persisted in asking for their wages.

Several workers even claimed they were harassed by the police and Rela officers and that their possessions like mobile phones, cigarettes and canned drinks were confiscated.

When contacted, Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam said he would ask the Labour Department to investigate the matter and take immediate action.

Indonesian Punawi, 32, who does plastering work, said he had not been paid for five months and barely had any money left for food.

“I only manage with one meal a day and that’s because the foodstall owner allows me to eat on credit. My work permit has expired and I don’t have RM3,000 to renew it,” he added.

Jatim, 37, said their employer would hold back their wages for three to four months and they would subsequently be paid a month’s salary.

Some employers, he claimed, would extend loans of RM50 to RM100 per week to the workers, leaving them in debt.

Jatim’s wife, Salimah, 32, who lives with him at the kongsi near the construction site with their five-month-old baby, said they often lived in fear of police raids.

“Each time there is a raid, I grab my baby and run. Some of us have to spend the night in the jungle to escape the authorities.”

Brickfields OCPD Asst Comm Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid said the last police raid took place several months ago to flush out illegals squatting in the jungles.

“Perhaps another agency was involved in the recent raids. If the allegations are true, the workers can come and see me and I will do what I can to help,” Wan Abdul Bari said.

Bukit Aman CID Director Comm Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Zinin said police would take take stern action against the employers if the workers’ claims were found to be true.

“We will also investigate the workers’ claim that policemen roughed them up during raids,” he said.

He urged the workers to come out of hiding and lodge police reports in order for justice to be done.