Waythamoorthy buoyed by Padang Meha compensation decision

From Malaysiakini, Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Hakem Arabi & Associates

When the news broke Thursday that the Court of Appeal had awarded 120 former workers of the Padang Meha Hup Seng Estate the sum of RM3.3 million based on a settlement agreement dating back to 1995, National Unity Minister P Waythamoorthy was elated.

While critics may charge that the sum is not as impressive when divided among a large group of people, he feels it is an important victory that could be precedent-setting.

“We must remember that this is a 23-year-old matter that could have been settled long before with the rightful compensation if the stakeholders for the estate workers could have done their part,” he told Malaysiakini.

“But irrespective of the sum, it is a symbolic victory that with the new government, every Malaysian irrespective of their standing have a fair chance to voice their grievances and obtain justice for their cause,” he said.

The appellants in the Padang Meha case were among 428 workers due compensation when they were displaced due to the sale of the estate.

The appellants approached Hindraf for help, and they in turn managed to get law firm Hakem Arabi & Associates to tackle the case on pro bono basis

The Court of Appeal ruled that based on a 1995 settlement agreement between East Asiatic Company (M) Sdn Bhd and MBF Holdings Bhd, the workers are entitled to termination, layoff, ex-gratia, and housing benefits.

While Hindraf is the organisation that decided to fight their case, the workers are from all three main ethnic groups, dispelling the common belief that only ethnic Indians were affected when estate owners sold the land from under them.

“Estate owners discovered that constructing industrial sites, offices, malls and residential properties on their huge hectares of land would yield a better harvest. So, they either started developing parcels of their land or sold them to developers for handsome profits without considering the displacement of the estate workers,” said Waythamoorthy who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

He said estate plantation workers have been neglected for a long time in the name of development since 1970.

“Hindraf estimates that around 800,000 estate workers (together with their families) were displaced."

Orang asli also affected

"Based on our experience there are no steadfast policies as such, and we have noticed that the purported stakeholders whether political or otherwise - like the unions for the displaced plantation workers - lack the will to pursue the rightful remuneration and compensation for the displaced state workers.”

The issue is not just confined to estate workers, he said.

“Logging companies and implementers of major dam projects don’t want to recognise that when they displace a whole group of people – such as the Orang Asli in forest reserves from land on which they have lived for generations, they are, in effect, destroying the only universe that these people know.”

“Although development is welcome, social justice needs to be done to ensure communities like the plantation workers and Orang Asli are adequately remunerated and assisted.”

Waythamoorthy promised that the Pakatan Harapan government remained concerned with the state and condition of the displaced estate workers and committed to ensuring that past mistakes are not repeated in relation to fair and justifiable compensation are afforded to them.

The Padang Meha decision, he said, would serve to encourage more legal action by those who were wrongfully deprived of their right to compensation.