What will happen if workers are retrenched in the year ahead as a result of the global stag-deflation? The case of toy manufacturer Nikko Electronics on mainland Penang is hardly comforting. The saddest part is that its 1,600 workers have been left stranded with no support from anyone to alleviate their suffering, reports Joethi Sahadevan.
It was 4.30pm and there was half an hour to go before the employees of Nikko Electronics Bhd in Prai packed their bags and headed home, just like any other day. Meanwhile, night -shift workers were expected to check in for work to continue with the manufacturing of radio-controlled toys.
At that particular hour on 30 June 2008, all workers at the factory premises were suddenly instructed to assemble at the conference hall, a common location used to make announcements. Workers including Thanaletchimi Siman-chalam, 35, an assistant supervisor, scurried curiously to the hall.
“I was apprehensive since the instruction came at the eleventh hour,” narrated Thanaletchimi while wiping a tear from her eye.
The shocking news was then announced by the company’s Managing Director. The MD pronounced that the company had been running at a loss in the last three years and it was impossible to continue operations.
Before the announcement could sink into the minds of the workers, who were in a state of disbelief, most of whom had served with dedication for over 16 years, they were immediately escorted out. By then the police had arrived to provide protection to the top brass of Nikko.
Workers waiting to be ferried to the factory for the night shift were baffled as to why the regular vans had not turned up to pick them up for work. Little did they know the fate that was awaiting them.
Thanaletchimi said the company had promised to repay the workers within two months after the consolidation had taken place. “But till today we were only paid the balance for annual leave which for some amounted to a mere RM30,” she lamented.
In retrospect, the workers had endured many cuts in benefits since the company had not been performing well for several years. They had loyally accepted a wage that had been stagnant for several years, without bonus payouts while medical benefit was just basic. Promotions had also been stalled – which the workers had accepted as part of their undivided support to Nikko in the hope that once the company flourishes it would take care of them.
All their hopes were dimmed as darkness descended. What they received in return for their loyalty and dedication was a mockery. One worker from Parit Buntar travelled in a bus all the way to Nikko only to receive an annual leave compensation of RM30!
The 1,200 Malaysian and 400 foreign workers till today have received nothing and they do not know if they will ever get their dues. The MTUC is currently providing assistance to the workers but all hopes were dashed when the High Court announced that until the company completes its winding-up process, the talks on compensation could not take place.
Thanaletchimi is now employed but she now has to contend with a much lower and inadequate salary compared to her previous pay. Life was difficult before but now it has become unbearable especially as she has to raise two small kids with her husband, who works as a lorry driver.
Her eyes misty with tears, Thanaletchimi added that she and her former colleagues are still keeping their uniforms, hoping that all that had happened was just a bad dream and they would be called back to work at Nikko – a scenario that is clearly unlikely.
Some of the workers are now going through a rough patch and several of them have fallen into arrears with their rent. Others are struggling to fork out money to pay up for their children’s education.
The saddest part is these victims have been left stranded with no support from the authorities to alleviate their suffering. Justice has been denied to the innocent workers who toiled together through good and bad times for Nikko Electronics Bhd.
The workers are now in a confused state. They wonder if their elected leaders are aware of their plight and their needs and if there as been any effort to settle what is due to them.
Until then, they shall wait… waiting for Godot. Unlike Samuel Beckett’s play, where the wait was futile, let us keep our fingers crossed that the factory workers of Nikko will not face a similar depressing fate.
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