Bon voyage to 283 Kolkata-bound Sime Plantation workers

LIFE has this strange inkling which somehow bears semblance to the idiom “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.

While 25,000 Bangladeshi nationals are eagerly awaiting to return to the Malaysian shores to resume their various roles as migrant workers, 283 of their Indian national counterparts who were longing to return to their homeland for various personal reasons had their dream fulfilled today.

They departed from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) for the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata via a Malaysia Airlines chartered flight (MH8780) courtesy of their employer Sime Darby Plantation Bhd at 4pm today.

Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha

Majority of the workers have ended their employment tenure with the plantation giant and have chosen not to renew the contract as they wanted to head back home to be with their families.

“We understand the plight of our foreign workers who are keen to reunite with their families back home,” Sime Plantation group managing director Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha told FocusM.

“We are doing everything we can to help facilitate their safe return. We are fortunate to have like-minded partners like Malaysia Airlines who are as committed to ensure missions like this are successful.”

Since July 2020, Sime Plantation with the help of several agencies including Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian Immigration Department, various embassies and the KLIA authorities have assisted a total of 1,739 foreign workers to return home.

“Sime Plantation is in the midst of preparing the journey back for an additional 670 workers within the next three months to Indonesia, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” added Mohamad Helmy.

The cost of the entire exercise was borne by Sime Plantation. As an extra token of appreciation, the company also arranged for 16 of the workers who have been with the Company for over 10 years to travel on business class.

Additionally, Sime Plantation has also provided an additional RM300 for domestic travel allowance to 88 workers who were bound to travel back to various regions upon arrival in Kolkata.

“Foreign workers whose permits have expired will continue to live in Sime Plantation’s estates with free housing and subsidised utilities, while waiting for the availability of their flight home,” added Mohamad Helmy.

Kudos to Sime Plantation

On Dec 11, Reuters reported that some Malaysian palm oil plantations were discouraging foreign workers from going home at the end of their contracts by asking them to keep working as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates a chronic labour shortage.

Migrant workers’ rights specialist Andy Hall who has been instrumental in raising the issue of challenges encountered by stranded workers in Malaysia praised Sime Plantation for doing its level best to manage the complex and bureaucratic process of repatriation amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

“This has eventually resulted in today’s successful repatriation flight to India, the second such chartered flight” he told FocusM.

Aside from the wholehearted private sector initiative as demonstrated by Sime Plantation, Hall lamented that the governments of both Malaysia and the related source countries of workers have not played their part successfully enough by facilitating a faster repatriation of stranded foreign workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Migrant workers have often been left in truly difficult situations without protection and basic rights, including salaries, by the closure of borders or left without genuine recourse to these regrettable challenges,” he observed.

“More concerted efforts are needed both from governments and the private sector to address the issue of stranded workers and protect their rights.” – March 12, 2021


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