Orang Asli workers being taken for a ride
Published: 29 October 2015
On the day the 4 Temiar children were being buried in Kampung Penad we were in Kuantan effecting the return of the last of 18 Temiar youths, 5 of them female, in a case of labour-trading that fringes on human trafficking.
Julaiha Along, a 20-year-old woman from Pos Tohoi in Gua Musang (where the school hostel of the 7 girls who went missing is located) was enticed with 4 other girls and 13 boys of her age group to work in a plastics factory in Ipoh sometime in March this year.
Perhaps what prompted them to take on the job, apart from the fact that they all needed money for themselves and their families, was that they were to be all together in one workplace.
This was what was promised by the labour agent named Faizal when he and his wife went to Pos Tohoi to enlist and pick up the Orang Asli workers. Faizal drove a Storm 4WD with the number plate PGX 8233.
What made them trust him was that his wife, Norehan Radzi (or better known as Leah), was of mixed Temiar-Malay origin. Our liaison person in this case in Pos Tohoi had in fact known the agent Leah when she was staying in a village in Perak. Leah is now believed to be living in Penang.
The reality: the so-called plastics factory was still under construction and needed no workers. So the Temiar youths were split and sent to several different locations, including in Ipoh, Shah Alam and KL.
The males were sent to work in other factories, while the 5 women were sent to different homes as house maids in Ipoh, KL, Shah Alam and even Kuantan.
After about a short while, it became clear that they were being given the run-around and the promised factory job in Ipoh would not materialise. The more extroverted among the girls made calls home and decided to leave their workplaces. Their family members came to Ipoh to get three of them back, separately.
The boys decided to try it out at the different factories they were sent to but in the end all of them eventually came back on their own.
The concern was then for the remaining two girls: Huna and Julaiha. Julaiha was not contactable at all as she did not have a mobile phone and the agent was initially reluctant to give us or the family reps her employer’s number.
Huna helping out in the JOAS office in PJ prior to following some Asean Indigenous Peoples to her home territory the next day for an exposure visit.
Yein, who was assigned to this case, was however able to contact Huna who had a mobile phone. After making police reports and trying to get in touch with the agents with great difficulty, as they tended to ignore calls, Huna’s employer finally agreed to let Huna go. This was after a month of Huna being placed at her work place in KL.
When we went to pick up Huna at the mansion-like house where she worked, the employer had praises for the agents and one ‘Ali’ who apparently worked with JAKOA and who knew the agents.
During our conversation with the employer, it became clear why she was willing to release Huna.
It had come to her attention that Huna had an ugly rash on her back that was not easily treatable (as she had taken Huna to see a doctor). Not wanting to have this supposed contagious disease spread to the infant Huna was supposed to care for, the employer was willing to let her go.
Her attempts to get JAKOA to send someone to pick her up ended with no resolution, hence why the employer was willing to let us take Huna back (after confirming with her relatives that we could do so on their behalf).
Julaiha relating her story at rest stop on the Karak-Kuantan Highway on the way to being sent home.
Julaiha was first sent to a family in Ipoh where she worked for about a month before being suddenly ‘transferred’ to Kuantan (via KL).
The agent had told the family that Julaiha’s father was sick and had been warded in the Gua Musang Hospital. This was a lie as Julaiha was an orphan and had been brought up by her sister.
Later we learned (from her Kuantan employer) that Julaiha was ‘delivered’ to her when she was in KL very soon after she enquired and agreed to take an Orang Asli maid from Faizal, the agent. For some reason, it appears, the agent wanted to transfer Huna urgently to a different employer.
Julaiha was brought in a car, apparently driven by Faizal, but ‘handed over’ to the employer by his wife Leah and another person by the name of Nik. An agent’s fee of RM4,000.00 was paid to Nik, and an agreement was signed by Faizal, the employer and Julaiha. This was nightime.
No copy of the agreement was given to the employer or Julaiha (who were both signatories with the agent) then, though they promised to do so within a week. Up to now, however, no such agreement had been dispatched to either party.
Prior to this, in order to perhaps prove that they are a legitimate organisation, they had showed the prospective employer a number of documents. This included the company registration certificates, a letter from the Batin (supposedly from the village the girl came from), and a letter from JAKOA.
[We later learned that JAKOA does undertake to help place Orang Asli workers in factories but not as house maids.]
Julaiha was then taken to the employer’s family house in Kuantan where she was to assist in the household chores. With her first month’s salary (RM600.00), she immediately bought a used handphone from the Indonesian maid of her employer’s mother. But this was quickly confiscated by the employer for reasons she says was in the girl’s best interest.
She was allowed to use the house phone (which she did to try and contact the agent to ask to be sent back) but it had no music (which she wanted to hear on her mobile phone) and it was not in her control.
Yein eventually made contact with the employer and negotiations were under way to seek Julaiha’s return. It was eventually agreed that Juliaha could return as long as a family member came to get her from Kuantan. The employer also said that the agent’s fee would be deducted from Julaiha’s salary.
When we went to Kuantan on 25 October 2015 with Julaiha’s elder sister and our local liaison Aishah, we were able to get more details on how the trade in Orang Asli labour was being conducted by the agents concerned.
Julaiha’s employer herself had reported to the police and also to JAKOA about the broken promises of the agent. But so far no action had been taken.
Julaiha’s employer had placed her monthly salary (after deducting what she thought was just deduction for the agent’s fee) in a savings account she had opened for her. However, the ATM card was card was kept by the employer and Julaiha had no access to the funds. Hence she could not send money home or use it to make her own purchases.
After some discussion, the employer has agreed to deposit the balance of her full salary into Julaiha’s savings account (the ATM card of which was returned to Julaiha).
During our discussion also, it became evident that in this case, as in the case of Huna, the employers were not abusive or cruel to the Temiar girls. But a lack of appreciation of the girls’ cultural circumstances and rights, and of their psychological frame of mind given the circumstances they were forced to be placed in, led to their lives being severely restricted and confined – as if they were in a bonded labour situation.
We are however happy that this episode had ended well for all 18 Temiar workers but we fear that these agents and others like them are still on the prowl for other unsuspecting Orang Asli.
[Photos by Colin Nicholas and Lili Li.]
CN-COAC | 29 October 2015
Huna and Lili in the JOAS office a day after she was released from her job as a maid in KL.
Julaiha with Lili.
With her sister Faridah (in red) and village-mate Aishah after her freedom was restored.