Malaysiakini Letter

The stink goes beyond the courts

Joseph Paul Maliamauv  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | It has been reported widely that the toilet and other parts of the court complex in Kuala Lumpur are stinking after the cleaners went on strike because they have not been paid since Ramadan (which was more than two months ago.)

The situation is so bad that the honourable judges have resorted to cleaning their own toilets in the court, and one is them is reported to have said that she would be bringing her domestic worker to clean her chambers, courtroom and washrooms and pay her extra for doing the job.

As Liew Vui Keong, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) says, the maintenance contractor should be brought to accountability. However, we would suggest that this issue raises many questions that go beyond the court complex and Liew.

We need to be concerned about the workers too. Why were they not paid? M Kulasegaran, the minister for Human Resources, should take an interest in this issue. Who are the workers affected? Most likely they are migrant workers. How serious is the issue of non-payment of wages?

The experience of NGOs like Tenaganita that works with migrant workers shows that these unpaid workers are the tip of the iceberg of migrant workers and refugees who are not paid their just wages.

If the honourable judges who would be well versed in legal remedies for their predicament have been suffering in silence for so long, would it be surprising that (illiterate) workers who have been robbed of their wages often suffer in silence unless their plight is picked up by the press or by an NGO and brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities?

If the unpaid workers are indeed foreigners, were they documented? If not, where are they now? Are they languishing in an immigration detention centre? Or have they been deported and blacklisted without receiving their wages?

The minister of Home Affairs, Muhyiddin Yassin (or his stand-in Dr Mahathir Mohamad), should be taking an interest in this issue since it may involve the Immigration Department. If they are undocumented workers, who should be held responsible?

The contractor? Can the management of the court complex who permitted undocumented workers (or illegal workers, as Mustafar Ali, the director-general of Immigration refers to them) to work on the premises shrug off responsibility?

Another question that Kulasegaran should consider is whether the contractor can get away without paying his workers if they are indeed undocumented? The Labour Department which falls under his purview seems to think so, though NGOs like Tenaganita think that it is manifestly unjust to deprive a worker of his wages simply because of his/her documentation status, which is a matter for the immigration department to sort out.

By way of obiter dicta, one would add a note of caution to the honourable judge who is contemplating bringing her domestic worker (not “maid” please) to work in the court complex, that she would be placing her domestic worker in a situation where she can be detained, charged and deported for violating the terms of her work permit which would only allow her to work in the home of the employer.

She should be careful of Mustafar's men who are zealously on the lookout for such cases. This is not a hypothetical scenario, as Tenaganita has learnt from the cases it has dealt with.

It is hoped therefore that when the matter of the stink in the Kuala Lumpur court complex is finally resolved, there are no lingering malodours of injustice to the workers whose rights and dignity should be upheld by the very courts that they clean.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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