February 10, 2009: As noted in yesterday’s post, the previously harmonious labor-management relations at the Hong Nam Co. in Malaysia suffered a severe blow because of the global economic downturn. The 28 Vietnamese guest workers there found themselves unhappy with extra deductions from their paychecks, shrinking work weeks, and tangled communications with management over an offer to repatriate them.
An official investigation, launched in the wake of the workers’ statements to the local Malaysian labor office, revealed that the company was indeed experiencing hard times as a result of the global crisis. It also showed that the firm had been clear with the workers about the resulting unstable 2-4 day work week. The workers had been urged to stay on the job in exchange for a basic wage, but they had refused and wanted to return home.
Regarding repatriation, Hong Nam officials explained to investigators that at that moment, plane tickets were very expensive, so they needed time to work on that issue.
Management also said that the company was collecting money for electricity and water because the workers were brewing alcohol to drink and sell. Officials said that by deducting money, they hoped to make the workers more aware of the extra water and power use, and perhaps bring it under control.
The workers, for their part, were worried about having enough work to survive. Up until that point, no one had advised them on how they might work with the company to resolve the situation.
A working session to resolve the issue brought together two local CAMSA representatives, two human resources officials of the company, six of the Vietnamese workers, and two Chinese workers.
All sides could see the merit of both the workers’ concerns and the company’s explanation. The CAMSA staff members helped the workers and the company reach an agreement on how to move forward.
On the workers’ side, all members of the Vietnamese association agreed on the need to return home. Before doing so, they agreed to clean the sanitary facilities and tidy up and paint (with materials supplied by the firm) the company areas in which they had lived.
The company, for its part, agreed to pay for plane tickets home to Vietnam; return each worker’s transportation “deposit” of RM160; refund another miscellaneous levy for the remaining months; arrange transportation for the workers to the Penang airport; and refrain from collecting any other sums from the workers.
On December 24, the company informed CAMSA that it had purchased the plane tickets.
CAMSA’s staff is heartened by the workers’ willingness to reach this agreement, and by the flexibility shown by Hong Nam management. Malaysia’s labor officials also played a positive role in this case. CAMSA will continue to monitor the situation to be sure that all sides follow through on their commitments.