IT has been reported widely that the toilets and other parts of the court complex in Kuala Lumpur are stinking after the cleaners allegedly went on strike because they have not been paid since Ramadan (which was more than two months ago).
The situation was reported to be so bad that the honourable judges resorted to cleaning their own toilets in the premises, and one of them was reported to have said that she would be bringing her domestic worker to clean her chambers, courtroom and wash rooms and pay her extra for doing the job, “Liew raises a stink over court complex” (Sunday Star, July 29).
Datuk Liew Vui Keong, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law), was quoted as saying that the maintenance contractor should be held accountable for the deplorable condition in the court complex. However, this issue raises many questions that go beyond the court complex.
We need to be concerned about the workers too. Why were they not paid? Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran should take an interest in this issue. The workers affected are most likely foreigners.
How serious is the issue of non-payment of wages? NGOs like Tenaganita which deal with migrant workers would say these unpaid workers are just 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, is it surprising that (illiterate) workers who have been robbed of their wages remain quiet too unless their plight is brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities?
If the unpaid workers are indeed foreigners, were they documented? If not, where are they now? The Home Affairs Minister should take an interest in this issue too since it may involve the Immigration Department. If they are undocumented workers, should the contractor be held responsible? Can the management of the court complex who permitted undocumented workers to work on the premises shrug off responsibility?
The Human Resources Minister should also consider whether the contractor can get away with not paying his workers if they are indeed undocumented. The Labour Department, which falls under his purview, seems to think so, although NGOs like Tenaganita think that it is manifestly unjust to deprive a worker of his wages simply because of his/her documentation status.
By way of obiter dicta, one would caution the judge who is contemplating bringing her domestic worker (not “maid”, please) to the court complex that she would be placing the person in a situation where she could be detained, charged and deported for violating the terms of her work permit, which only allows her to work in the home of the employer. 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 is no lingering malodour of injustice to the workers whose rights and dignity should be upheld by the very courts they clean.
JOSEPH PAUL MALIAMAUV