By Mariam Mokhtar
After a year-long wait, the 51 school cleaners from Ipoh, whose plight was highlighted last September by the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), will finally receive their wages.
The workers’ problems started early last year, when the company they worked for, Double Click Enterprise (DCE), did not pay their wages. DCE is a company which is authorised by the Education Ministry to clean several schools in Ipoh.
The company told the workers that the ministry had not sent them any payment and therefore, they could not pay their wages. This fact was confirmed by a member of the Education Ministry, who was contacted by PSM.
As every employer and employee knows, the Employment Act states that salaries have to be paid before the 7th day of each month.
Online newspaper, Malaysiakini, reported that the workers had previously voiced their problems to both the Perak Education Department and the Education Ministry, in February 2015. Their problems were not resolved.
So what is going on? Why is a company, which was vetted and selected by the Education Ministry not paying its workers on time, and breaking the government’s own Employment Law? In normal circumstances, the company which flouts the law, would have to pay a massive fine.
When PSM contacted the Ministry, they were given the run-around by officials. They were told to contact the secretary of the asset management and acquisitions department. PSM then complained to the Perak education department, and again to the Education Ministry’s asset division, last August.
Malaysiakini attempted to find out from the Education Ministry the name of the person dealing with the issue, but was told that the ministry was not sure. At the same time, it tried to contact the Perak education director, but was unsuccessful.
Workers are not unfamiliar with the non-availability of key personnel in government departments who suddenly go missing or who have no idea who should be in charge.
Presumably, this left the PSM MP for Sungai Siput, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, little choice but to lodge a police report against the Education Minister and his ministry’s secretary of the asset and acquisitions division, to get to the heart of the matter.
He made his report, at the Ipoh police station, on September 7, 2015, so that the police could initiate an investigation on behalf of the workers. He wanted to know if there had been a misappropriation, or misuse of the funds, that had been allocated for the cleaners.
Finally, six months later, on March 17 this year, Dr Jeyakumar received a parliamentary written reply, from the Education Ministry, confirming that it had orders to disburse RM31,000 to the workers.
The Ministry informed Dr Jeyakumar that they had held on to the money and had not released it to DCE, which has since gone bankrupt. The Ministry had terminated the contract with the company, in May 2015, because their services were below standard.
DCE apparently went bankrupt in July, 2015, but incredibly, its cleaners were told, by the Kinta district education office, to continue providing their cleaning services.
This must have been a thoroughly confusing state of affairs. We are told the performance of DCE was poor. So, why did it continue to provide its services, despite being bankrupt? How was the company deficient? Were the workers’ performance terrible? If so, why were they requested to continue providing their cleaning services? Why was a new contractor not found?
R. Rani, who is the coordinator for the Network for Government Contract Workers was aware of the workers’ fears, and said, “.....the salary and minimum wage of every worker of between RM7000 and RM11,000 is safe. Therefore, the workers can get their unpaid salary and minimum wage as soon as possible”.
The workers will finally receive their wages, after a 10 month wait, but in the meantime, will the ministry and education department clean up their act?