Lawyers for Istana Negara workers lodge police report

By Yow Hong Chieh
June 30, 2010
Lawyers Latheefa Koya (left), N. Surendran and Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (right) showing workers’ signed statements. – Picture by Jack Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 — Lawyers representing migrants working on the new Istana Negara lodged a police report today alleging the workers had not been paid in months and were subject to police extortion.

“[Workers’ statements] confirm the earlier media reports… that there was extortion, that there was non-payment of salaries, everything,” lawyer N. Surendran said.

It was reported in The Sunday Star that almost 1,000 migrant workers hired by 130 sub-contractors to work on the RM800 million Istana Negara project on Jalan Duta had not been paid for the last five months and were living in fear and frustration either because they did not have work permits or could not afford to renew permits which had expired.

Lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said the workers also alleged police extortion during five to six raids carried out on the construction site since January 2010.

“They would arrest around 100 workers and they would tell the workers that if they wanted to be released, they had to pay RM1,500 per worker,” she said after filing the police report at the Brickfields district police headquarters here.

She claimed that the detained workers would only be released once the police representative received the money from the workers’ representative.

“Also, during the raids they would confiscate all the belongings of the workers — for example, foodstuff, canned food, cigarettes, shampoo — and they would also destroy some of these belongings,” she added.

Another lawyer, Latheefa Koya, said the authorities did not have to wait for the workers to make a formal complaint to take action as they were empowered to investigate the matter under the Occupational Safety Hazard Act and Workmen’s Compensation Act.

The lawyers walking out after lodging the police report. – Picture by Jack Ooi

“Once a complaint or situation is highlighted, the Labour Department, the Human Resources Ministry has got enough powers and authority to go into any work construction site to find out whether the workers are exposed to any kind of exploitation,” she said.Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) president Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud yesterday urged the Human Resources Ministry to investigate the matter and at the same time protect the workers pending the outcome of the probe.

Latheefa, who is also PKR information chief, said the workers on site looked like bonded slaves or trafficked persons and that some were “practically… starving.”

“We have the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act which allows the authorities to go in and investigate as well. So, actually, they don’t have to wait for us to make a police report,” she said.

“We made a police report because there seems to be no action being taken by the authorities.”

She explained the lawyers had made the report on the workers’ behalf using signed statements as the labourers were fearful of repercussions if they tried to make a report themselves.

“Because of that vulnerability, we have no choice — the lawyers have to take it up on their behalf,” she said.

She said that names had been redacted from the workers’ statements to protect their identity due to “security issues.”

Surendran added that the lawyers will not reveal the names of the workers who made the statements unless the Home Ministry and the Human Resources Ministry gave written guarantees that they will not be prosecuted, deported or harmed in any way.