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Sept 12, 2000 (Malaysiakini)

Estate workers lodge police reports against Guthrie Susan Loone

4pm, TUES: Nineteen police reports have been lodged against the country's largest plantation company Guthrie by estate workers in Sungai Siput after they were ordered to vacate their houses.

The order to vacate came after the workers have reportedly written numerous letters to Guthrie asking for better terms of compensation including alternative housing.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) protem committee member Dr Jeya Kumar told malaysiakini that the Kimiri ex-estate workers committee had lodged a police report while 18 other families each lodged a separate report against the estate management's "irresponsible behaviour", at the Sungai Siput police station over the past three weeks.

"These workers were offered very meagre retrenchment benefits," said Kumar, who was also Sungei Siput's DAP candidate for member of parliament during last November's general election.

"The benefits work out to only about RM7,000 to RM10,000 per worker who had worked for 25 years, as specified in the 1955 Employment Act," he added.

Kumar said that six weeks ago, the manager gave orders that the "drains in the vicinity of the houses of the retrenched workers should not be cleaned; nor the grass around their houses cut; or rubbish collected; and that their septic tanks allowed to remain in disrepair".

This has led to "fertile breeding grounds for both flies and mosquitos. Snakes also have been sighted around the living quarters," added Kumar.


He also said that the workers have protested through letters to the Kamiri Management, Guthrie Head Office, the Labour Department of Kuala Kangsar, as well as to the State Health Department.

"However, despite visits from the Labour and State Health Department, the Guthrie Manager remains recalcitrant," said Kumar, adding that the workers and their families were exposed to the danger of snake bites, dengue as well as to the foul odour of the stagnant drains, uncollected rubbish and overflowing septic tank.

"The workers are disappointed and frustrated that despite being empowered by very explicit provisions in the Minimum Standards Housing Act, the Labour and Health Departments are unwilling to use their powers to compel Guthrie to act responsibly," he added.

Kumar expressed disappointment with Guthrie who is considered a leader in the plantation industry, for not setting a good example to other estate owners in honouring the contribution of workers. He also felt strongly that the government must intervene immediately to assist the workers.

Fifty-six rubber tappers were retrenched last year; each had worked for 15 to 35 years in the estate before Guthrie decided to replace the rubber trees with palm oil on its 1,500 acres of land, said Kumar.