Pakistani Worker’s Death Due to Non Payment of Wages. Murder or Suicide?

A young man ended his life. He didn’t die because of natural causes; he didn’t die in an accident, and he wasn’t killed by Covid-19. He died because he was not paid his wages. He made this very clear in his video in which he showed very clearly who his employer was. The video showed the contrast and class contradiction of the two worlds, the worker’s and his bosses’. We are told that the employer has now paid up the backdated wages and sent the body back with some so-called ‘goodwill money’ no doubt to keep them silent and maintain the peace. Should the story end here?

Can we keep silent? Non-payment of wages is a violation of the right to livelihood – under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. In this case, a life has been lost due to criminal violation. Serious action must be taken by the authorities.

Pakistani worker Shahzad Ahmad hanged himself because his employer Landseal Sdn Bhd hadn’t paid his wages for five months. Earlier, the worker had released a surreal video of himself making known his decision to end his life as a way out of his desperate financial situation.

There are many questions that demand answers from the government.

Migrant workers are here to earn a living to support their families back home and pay up debts incurred, much of it due to greedy middlemen along their journey here. With low income, there are no savings to fall back on even for a month. Imagine the stress on a worker who has to go without pay for five months at a stretch. No amount of counseling persuading him to live on nothing could have helped this worker: only his wages would have saved him.

How is it possible for an employer who is not a slave master to get away without paying his worker for so many months? Non-payment of wages is a rampant occurrence even when the government is the paymaster, as in the case of school contract workers. But despite it being frequently highlighted, it hasn’t got the serious attention it needs. At most employers get away with a slap on the wrist, resulting in them getting away and then repeating the offence. Now that a life has been lost due to poor enforcement by human resources agencies, will the Ministry of Human Resources take it more seriously?

A common reaction to this incident will be why the worker had to resort to such an extreme measure instead of filing a complaint at the labour office. Do workers have the right to take their complaints to the labour office? Sadly, this right exists only on paper; in reality those who complain face victimization and dismissal. This young Pakistani worker is a victim of this unprotected avenue to justice. The government in its bid to maintain its pro-business stand cannot allow workers to be trampled on in a situation where enforcement is lax, and workers cannot air their grievances.

This tragic incident marks a new low in the way our migrant workers are managed in Malaysia. This will not get better unless the government adopts the recommendations proposed in reports such as that of the Independent Committee on the Management of Foreign Workers, and the MWR2R report, Towards a Comprehensive National Policy on Labour Migration in Malaysia. It is not acceptable that the government continues to leave this sector unregulated and up to the whims and discretion of employers. Despite the strident demands for migrant workers to prevent their businesses from collapsing, due respect for the rights of the migrant workforce, is sorely lacking among employers.

The PSM demands that the government takes serious and immediate action to stop the non-payment of wages, without giving the excuse of a shortage of labour inspectors. The PSM also demands that investigation papers be opened on the employer for contributing to and abetting the suicide by the Pakistani worker.

Mohanarani Rasiah
Coordinator Migrant Desk PSM