Allegations of abuse and exploitation at PJ banana leaf restaurant

Man claiming to be former worker claims abuse in interview with Indian actress.

When Indian national Velayutham came to Malaysia from his hometown in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu in 2018, he wanted to work as a carpenter.

But the man claimed he was tricked by his recruitment agent into working at a banana leaf restaurant in Petaling Jaya “temporarily”, where he allegedly endured abuse and exploitation for one-and-a-half years before running away.

Speaking to Indian actress Lakshmy Ramakrishnan on Indian entertainment channel Behindwoods Air, the man known only as Velayutham recounted his experience working at the restaurant.

As reported by Free Malaysia Today, Velayutham said he never received any of his wages while he worked there. He said his agent would send the money to his family in India every month, not before taking a cut for his services.

The man alleged he also witnessed a colleague being doused with petrol and suffered burns. He said this was after the colleague threatened to report sexual abuse purportedly perpetrated by an employer at the restaurant.

Velayutham claimed his colleague initially did not receive proper medical aid for his injuries, aside from some medicine the employer bought for him, as he did not have a valid work permit.

The employer eventually brought the man to a clinic but the man was told to say his injuries were due to a gas cylinder explosion, he claimed.

One of the bosses also regularly threatened to beat or kill the foreign employees at the restaurant for not working hard enough, he alleged, even though they worked from 5am to midnight every day.

Having had enough of the abuse, Velayutham wanted to leave, so he contacted a friend who connected him with an immigration officer in India.

“The officer contacted my agent, who promised to send me home in two days.

“However, the agent’s Malaysian counterpart and owner burnt my passport to prevent me from leaving but I managed to run away,” Velayutham said.

He then made his way to Seremban where he picked up odd jobs for a year; working unpaid at a farm for the first six months and then at a construction site after that, where he was paid RM1,000.

He said he was also forced to sleep on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and survived on food provided by Masjid Jamek.

After reaching out to the Indian embassy for help to return to India, Velayutham managed to get a temporary passport.

He then spent four months staying with Indian workers in Malaysia before returning to India on May 30 after he launched a social media campaign to gather funds for his return.

Velayutham also participated in another interview with Lakshmy and Malaysian Human Resources Minister M Saravanan on June 18.

Human Resources Minister M Saravanan

In that interview, Saravanan said the restaurant has since been raided by a multi-agency task force and one person has been arrested for further investigation.

While his ministry could charge the employers if they were found to have violated labour laws, Saravanan said only the police could investigate the criminal allegations.

Meanwhile, PSM deputy chairperson S Arutchelvan said the story of Velayutham has become a “major talking point” among Tamils in both Malaysia and India.

Though he welcomes Saravanan’s prompt handling of this issue, Arutchelvan urged the police to start an investigation on this matter immediately, by lodging their own police report.

He also reminded that agents cheating foreign workers is a real and rampant issue, both in India and Malaysia.

“A lot of workers are given false hope, cheated, and manipulated. There needs to be a direct government-to-government dealing so that a proper system and all the middle people can be stopped,” he said.

Penang deputy chief minister II P Ramasamy said Velayutham’s case is “not an isolated case but the tip of an iceberg”.

“It is an utter disgrace that employers in Malaysia are exploiting and ill-treating foreign workers.

“It might not apply to all employers, but the behaviour and attitude of a small number of employers are enough to cast aspersions on all of them,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said the Human Resources Ministry is hardly making an impact in improving the living and working conditions of foreign workers, despite its various departments and enforcement agencies, Ramasamy said.

This is because there is no concerted attempt to check and enforce the laws broadly and effectively, he said.

“In the case of Velayutham, the response of Saravanan was typical. He said that the ministry took immediate action against the party responsible for abusing and exploiting Velayutham.

“But what about others who were abused and exploited?

“What action is the ministry taking to ensure that foreign workers are treated with respect without being exploited?” Ramasamy questioned.

MALAYSIAKINI

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