May 31, 11
A group that claims to represent those affected had hung up a banner near the factory last Saturday, showing their friends in handcuffs, and demanding action.
But Western Digital was having none of this and had the banner taken down within hours. Asked why, the men dressed in company-issued jackets refused to comment.
A winner of the 'Best Employer in Asia 2009' award, Western Digital is today accused of not providing work permits to at least 1,000 workers who have been employed for about two years in Malaysia.
Indonesian publication Tempo Interaktif reported in March that company officials had met with Indonesian embassy representatives in Kuala Lumpur to explain the situation involving some 6,000 workers in all.
It quoted embassy officials as saying that the company had claimed to be dealing with the problem in batches, and that it had only realised the problem when informed by the diplomatic mission.
But employee Ully Suryana (all names have been changed to protect identities) begged to differ. She said the workers were recruited through an agency in Indonesia that had a direct agreement with Western Digital in relation to work permits.
“Under the agreement, Western Digital said it will hang on to our passports but give us work permits so that we can move freely,” she said when met.
This could not be further from the truth.
Ully, a fresh-faced youth in her early 20s, claimed that the Immigration Department had raided one hostel some time ago and detained everyone in it because they did not have work permits.
Only last week, five workers were detained, still in pyjamas, for the same reason. They spent three nights in a lock-up cell before being released without being given a reason.
'RM200 bribe to authorities'
Widia, also in her 20s, believes that the company had something to do with the release.
“The human resources officer told us that the company cannot do anything if we are caught by the police, but can help if we run into trouble with immigration,” said Widia, who approached Malaysiakini to air her grouses.
Angrily, she said that this 'solution' means little to her as she had to pay RM200 to the authorities, to elude spending the night behind bars.
She said RM200 is more than the 'usual' RM50 demanded by the authorities, which could include police and immigration officers and Rela personnel. The workers make RM450 a month in basic salary.
“We complain to human resources (department) but they (just) get angry with us.
"They say, 'Why did you leave Selangor?' or 'Who told you to be rude to police?'… as if it's our fault, when they are the ones in the wrong,” said the diminutive Ully.
She claimed that Western Digital has advised them to wear their work-place identity tag at all times, but the authorities have rejected these as proof of having entered the country legally.
“So we are now like captives. We can only move from our hostels and the factory, and have to wear our tags even to take the trash out,” she said.
But the women who were recently detained were arrested at a farmer's market just five to 10 minutes' walk from their hostels, proving that even the limited distance they are 'allowed' to roam is unsafe.
“I came because I wanted work experience and to save some money, but I don't care about the money now. I've even offered to buy back the remainder of my three-year contract so I can go home, but they've refused,” added Ully.
When contacted, Western Digital reserved comment pending the likely issuance of a statement.