A group of former workers from an estate in Sungai Siput, Perak, have urged the state government to fulfil its pledge for housing lots as compensation for job and accommodation losses suffered more than two decades ago.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia chairman Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj said the 34 workers, from Kamiri estate, had struck a deal in 2008 with Guthrie, their employer at the time, for one housing lot each as part of the compensation.
"The 34 workers would buy seven acres of land from Sime Darby for the price of RM490,000 paid for by an NG0 that would get three acres of this land to build a vocational college. The workers would get a housing lot each, free of charge, on the remaining four acres.
"This should have taken place in 2011," he said in a statement today.
He said most of the workers were third-generation rubber tappers who were laid off after Guthrie, now known as Sime Darby, decided to switch to an oil palm plantation.
The case was fought up to the Federal Court where the employer won the right to evict the workers in 2009.
Under the Lay-Off Benefits Regulations 1980 of the Employment Act, workers are also entitled to cash compensation.
However, Jeyakumar said the deal with Sime Darby took a twist when the state government decided to use vacant government land for the housing lots.
According to Jeyakumar, the workers objected to the proposal and instead called for the state land to be used to relocate squatter villagers in Sungai Siput.
"We went to the menteri besar when the court case was going on and asked him for four acres of land to give us lots. The answer then was there was no land available. It is okay if you cannot help us, but why do you sabotage us?" a former worker was quoted as saying.
Jeyakumar, a former MP for Sungai Siput, also claimed that some in the district land committee at the time were "looking to generate business contracts for their cronies".
The individuals, he said, would then be able to channel business to selected contractors.
He added that the workers were now hoping for the intervention of leaders from the coalition government.
"This isn’t an isolated problem," he said. "The unity government should make serious efforts to address misgovernance in the assistance programmes for the rural poor."