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Time to call construction industry to account

October 23, 2017

Group laments latest tragedy, says migrant workers are working under conditions that could be considered 'modern day slavery', without adequate protection.


Foreign-workersBy Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition

The hillside collapse which has claimed the lives of one Malaysian, possibly eleven migrant workers and at least two refugees at Tanjung Bungah, Penang is sadly not much of a surprise.

Local people and groups had been warning the state government and Penang city council about the consequences of indiscriminate hill-cutting, and about this particular area, for some time.

Sadly, as is the case across the nation, the developers seem to remain unchecked, pursuing their profits at the expense of humans and the environment alike.

Increased flooding, site accidents, hill collapses and landslides, and more – the on-going destruction of our environment and the consequences are plain for all to see.

But we do not want to learn, we value profits before environment, and so we suffer the consequences.

But this is all much more than an environmental disaster.

This latest incident, like incidents before this, has claimed the lives of innocent workers who were just trying to do their job.

One Malaysian has lost his life in terrible circumstances, while the others who died are not from Malaysia.

It is a fact that the majority of the workers in the construction industry are migrants or refugees.

As we know, many are working in situations of debt bondage. They are working under conditions which are not monitored and which break labour laws on so many levels with health and safety put to one side.

They are also staying in over-crowded shacks without any proper sanitation or standards, and where insurance and compensation may not be protecting the worker in case of mishap.

In other words, many are working in conditions which can be described as modern day slavery.

From this latest tragedy, let us hope that the full circumstances of the employment of the migrant workers and refugees who have given their lives so tragically are investigated and made public.

We need to know the details of all and any companies, contractors and/or sub-contractors responsible for the employment of the migrant workers and any refugees at this site.

We need the full supply chain of labour, because from top to bottom: the system of outsourcing for labour is rife.

We need to know the terms and conditions of such employment – are the workers all documented, are they fully protected and insured, or are they undocumented and working without protection or insurance?

We need to know the full details of all health and safety precautions taken to protect the workers at this site.

And we need to know the full details of how much compensation is being paid to the respective families of the workers and how that is to be delivered.

What is the amount of the compensation paid to each family?

Assuming that some compensation is being paid (which may or may not be a good assumption), is this adequate?

Do we need to review the statutory provisions and statutory amounts paid in tragic circumstances like this one? How do we “value” lives?

We call upon the authorities and any official enquiry to address these issues.

These issues are systemic to the construction industry. This is not a “one-off” exception and should not be treated as such.

It is testament to the way the industry approaches their environmental responsibilities, and it should be made testament to the way they treat their workforce.

Who are they employing and on what terms and conditions are they employing them? How can we continue to allow an industry to continue to show such scant respect to human beings and to our environment?

Why has nothing been done about it for so long? Are they so powerful?

Are we really so happy to watch Malaysians, migrant workers and refugees being sacrificed at our altar of “development’, and for our environment to come tumbling down in the name of “progress” (read “profit”)?

When will those in positions of authority say enough is enough, and do something?

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition comprises various NGOs – North South Initiative, Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign, Sahabat Wanita and Tenaganita – as well as Parti Sosialis Malaysia.



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