Economic Times, India
10 Jul, 2008
The memorandum of understanding the Indian and Malaysian governments are in the process of inking will go a long way in improving the situation for the large number of Indian workers who are already employed in Malaysia as well as others who plan to go there.
The agreement is, in fact, one of the many social security deals that has been envisaged by the Indian ministry of overseas Indian affairs to help Indian workers and professionals employed overseas.
The MoU with Malaysia, which has been finalised, will ensure the activities of unscrupulous agents and brokers, who extort money from poor workers seeking job opportunities overseas, is curbed and regulated. Both governments also hope that the new agreement will help improve the working and living conditions of Indian workers in Malaysia.
“Indian workers in Malaysia face their own set of problems, which is very different from Indian workers in the Gulf. Besides, Malaysia doesn’t have as big a scarcity of manpower as many of the Gulf countries, a situation that often leads to the exploitation of Indian workers.
Recently, Malaysia’s policy of issuing visas on arrival has seen some Indians using the facility and staying behind for employment illegally. The MoU will address all these issues and will help in protecting the interests of Indian workers. We have already finalised this MoU and will be signing it soon,” Vayalar Ravi, the minister for overseas Indian affairs, told ET recently.
Around 130,000 Indian workers are employed in Malaysia in skilled and semi-skilled jobs. The Malaysian government recognises the importance of Indian workers for its fast growing economy. But of late there have been many cases of exploitation of Indian workers in Malaysia.
Recently, 15 Indian workers employed in three restaurants had sought refuge in the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur after their employer failed to pay their salaries for the past seven months. Their travel documents were with their employer and the work permits of some workers had expired. The Indian High Commission had to work out arrangements for the workers to be sent back to India. There have also been cases where workers had been given lower pay than promised while some had been allegedly tortured by their employers.
It is now hoped that the agreement, which is on the lines of others that have been signed by the Indian government with some of the Gulf countries, will be a positive step towards ensuring proper living and working conditions for Indians in Malaysia, and later creating positive welfare schemes.
Prominent people of Indian origin in Malaysia feel that some of the problems faced by Indian workers there arise because of a complex multi-ethnic social system.
“Like any other country with a multi-ethnic base, there are bound to be problems. But we also have a tradition of resolving our problems within our boundaries, as we have done for the last century and a half. The diversity of Malaysia is not something new. For us, it is not a new adjustment to migratory forces like the US or Europe is currently facing. Malaysia has been situated on the confluence of the trade routes between India and China for the last 800 years. The first Chinese arrived here in late 12th, early 13th century. And Indians have been here longer than that. One can see a great many Indian and Chinese influences on language, culture and tradition here. We are a cultural melting pot of all the various nations in Malaysia,” says Vijay Eswaran, group MD and CEO of the QI Group of companies, a multinational conglomerate with business interests in retailing, travel and leisure, luxury products, interactive marketing, technology, financial services, corporate investments, training and education, business consulting, and logistics. The QI group has regional offices in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Eswaran feels the recent rumblings of unrest within the Indian community in Malaysia is mainly because of a loss in their position in the economic development of the country. “We obviously are not represented proportionately. This feeling of frustration has been openly expressed recently. But I believe the government is taking this seriously and there have been attempts to open dialogue and address the problems. Clearly, the government is not solely responsible, as the community has a major role to play in taking full advantage of the resources placed before it,” he said.
Some of the well-known companies founded by people of Indian origin in Malaysia include Westport, Maxis and Astro. Tan Sri Datuk G.Gnanalingam, executive chairman and founder of Westport, is also the director and shareholder of Pembinaan Redzai Sdn. Bhd. (a major shareholder of Westport Holdings Sdn. Bhd.) and a board member of the Klang Port Authority. The HSS group, which is one of the leading engineering companies in Malaysia, was founded by Dato Kuna Sittapalam, a PIO.
Ananda Krishnan, CEO of the Maxis Group, has featured on global rich lists. His holdings include Maxis Communications, Malaysia’s largest cell-phone service provider, with more than 6 million subscribers. The company holds a 74% stake in Aircel Cellular in India. The Kamdar Sdn Bhd, a retail chain with 21 outlets across Malaysia, is also a PIO family enterprise that was opened in 1950.
Tan Sri Kishu Tirathrai is another prominent Malaysian businessman of Indian origin. He is best known for his textile business as the chairman and managing director of the famous Globe Silk Store, which has now shut down. He is credited with the consolidation and expansion of a family business – the Globe Silk Store – into a household name. Currently, he leads the Tirathrai Group of Companies that have diversified from textile and apparel merchandising and retailing into manufacturing and real estate development.
While there are various ethnic Indian organisations in Malaysia, the younger PIOs often don’t have the time to play an active role in them.
“I mostly live in Hong Kong and that has limited my ability to be involved that much with the Indian community in Malaysia. But my family does have strong ties with various organisations. My father was the founding president of the Malaysian Hindu Youth Organisation. Socially, culturally and through religion, whenever I am in Malaysia, I am fairly actively involved with several organisations. Temple of Fine Arts, the Divine Life Society and the Malaysian Hindu Sangam are a few of these. Politically, though, I have kept away from the various parties representing the community,” says Eswaran.
Anwar Ali Mustafa Jumabhoy, senior vice president, seed ventures, at Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd, finds a lot of entrepreneurial enthusiasm among the ethnic Indian community in Malaysia. At MAVCAP, Jumabhoy is primarily responsible for investment in start-ups and early-stage technology companies. MAVCAP is a new government initiated and private sector-managed move to continue to bolster and spearhead Malaysia’s charge towards a complete knowledge-based economy before 2020.
“One of the companies that we’ve invested in recently – sigmax-e.com – is founded by an Indian. Late last year, another investment of mine, ADA Cellworks Sdn Bhd, was acquired by a GTL group company. ADA provides radio planning services in the region, whilst GTL, is of course, a major player in the telecom services market,” says Jumabhoy.
Prominent PIOs in Malaysia are very upbeat about doing business in the region and feel that the country has a lot of advantages for entrepreneurs. “Malaysia is a confluence of races and culture. It is the meeting point of Asia. We have wide interaction with the rest of Southeast Asia. Being both a Chinese- and Malay-dominated country; we have very good connections with China and East Asia.
And because it is also a predominantly Islamic country, we have very good connections with the OIC, the Middle Eastern countries and North African nations. Also, Singapore is right next door and that makes us very easily accessible to international trade routes and foreign investors,” Eswaran says.
The original article is available here