An Indian’s tale of abuse and exploitation while working at a banana leaf restaurant here is creating waves in Malaysia and India via social media and TV stations.
Known only as Velayutham, the man from Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, recounted how he had his wages withheld from him, was assaulted by one of his employers, and saw his colleague doused with petrol and burnt for threatening to expose sexual abuse meted out on the restaurant’s workers by the same boss.
Velayutham made these claims during an interview with Indian actress Lakshmy Ramakrishnan on Indian entertainment channel Behindwoods Air. This is now one of the top-trending YouTube videos in Malaysia.
Saravanan told viewers that a multi-agency task force had since raided the restaurant and arrested one person for further investigation.
Saravanan said his ministry could charge the employers if they were found to have violated the relevant labour laws, but it would be up to the police to investigate the criminal allegations.
FMT has reached out to Saravanan for further comment. FMT is also withholding the name of the restaurant and the owner pending their comment.
Velayutham said he came to Malaysia in 2018 with the intention of working as a carpenter but was cheated by his recruitment agent into working at the restaurant “temporarily”.
He said the restaurant never actually paid him his wages throughout his one and a half years there, with his agent instead sending it to his family in India every month, but not before first taking a cut for his services.
He claimed that one of the bosses regularly threatened to beat or kill the restaurant’s foreign employees for not working hard enough, despite them being on their feet from 5am to midnight every day.
Velayutham claimed a colleague who threatened to blow the whistle was doused with petrol and received burn injuries. He said the man was allegedly unable to receive proper medical care since he had no valid work permit.
He said the employer bought some medicine for the man to apply and eventually brought him to a clinic, where he was told to say that his burns were the result of a gas cylinder explosion.
“I then contacted a friend asking for help, 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,” he told the programme.
He claimed he made his way to Seremban where he worked odd jobs for a year, the first six months as an unpaid hand at a farm before working at a construction site for the next six months, where he was paid RM1,000.
Velayutham said he reached out to the Indian embassy for help to return to India and received a temporary passport.
He said he was forced to sleep on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, surviving on food provided by Masjid Jamek. He spent four months staying with Indian workers in Malaysia before arriving back in India on May 30 after launching a social media campaign to seek funds for his return.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia deputy chairman S Arutchelvan, who said Velayutham’s plight had become a “major talking point” among Tamils in Malaysia and in India, praised him for coming forward.
He noted that Velayutham’s experience was fairly common, adding that abusive employers and unscrupulous agents were both issues that have long been documented in Malaysia.
“The plight of many other migrants in Malaysia have come to light,” he said.
“I have also spoken to a number of migrant workers in Tamil restaurants and they say they believe in Velayutham’s version.
“I had also received complaints before where migrant workers were not paid their salaries. When they asked for it, they were assaulted and bullied. For me, this is not an isolated case.” – FMT