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Malaysia denies ban on Indian workers

Malaysian minister Sami Vellu dismisses reports that Kuala Lumpur has suspended Indian workers' recruitment.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2008 03:18 IST
Nilova Roy Chaudhury, Sutirtho Patranobis and Agencies
Nilova Roy Chaudhury, Sutirtho Patranobis and Agencies
Hindustan Times

Malaysia has suspended the recruitment of Indian workers, news agencies quoted the government in Kuala Lumpur as saying on Tuesday, but a Malaysian minister visiting India denied the reports claiming a “status quo” existed on Indian recruitments and, “when needed, Indians are welcome.”

The Indian government chose not to react officially after visiting Malaysian Public Works Minister Sami Vellu said there was “no truth” in the agency reports, but diplomatic sources said something was “definitely happening” and New Delhi would “strongly take the matter up with Kuala Lumpur after ascertaining details.” However, the sources said, “there has been no official intimation” to the Indian government on the matter.

Vellu told reporters there was no truth in news reports about the freeze on employment and that the status quo remains in context of Indian workers.

“I just spoke to the Prime Minister (Abdullah Badawi),” Vellu said. “The statement (news report) is not true. There is no such thing. Every thing is status quo,” Vellu said after a session on NRI investment in India.

When asked whether Indian workers were welcome in Malaysia, he said: “Indian workers are already there. When needed, they are welcome.” Workers whose recruitment has been frozen are Indian nationals and not the ethnic Indians who comprise around 17 per cent of Malaysia’s population and have recently been in the news for agitating against discrimination by the Malaysian state.

Vellu refused to answer further questions on the issue. “You came to me with one question. There is no truth in the statement (of Reuters),” he said. The Malaysian government decision, taken by the Cabinet on December 18, became public on Tuesday, when India's Defence Minister A.K. Antony ended a three-day visit, hailed by both sides as a boost to rapidly growing bilateral relations, including military links. Workers from India will not be recruited, according to the official circular. But it is not clear if the ban applies to professionals as well. The freeze on recruitment of Indian workers includes temple priests, sculptors and musicians, in a move apparently linked to the recent mass protests by the ethnic Indians here against their alleged marginalisation.

About 140,000 Indians from India work in Malaysia, constituting the third largest foreign work force. Most Indians work in low-paying jobs as waiters, barbers and gardeners. However, some hold top professional posts in banks and information technology industries.

Coming on a day when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the annual celebration of non-resident Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the large visiting Malaysian delegation comprising 70 members of the ethnic Indian Malaysian National Congress (which Vellu heads) at the PBD was caught off-guard.

"The security and welfare of Indian residents living abroad is a top priority of our diplomatic missions," Singh said in his speech, referring to the recent events in Malaysia.

The decision was not conveyed to Antony during his talks with Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, and apparently caught the Indian High Commission by surprise.

An Indian High Commission official said the mission is in touch with the "authorities concerned on the reported circular." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing protocol, did not elaborate.

The Home Ministry official said Indian workers who are already in the country will be allowed to carry on, but their permits will not be renewed. He said the ban is related to a recent unrest by the country's minority ethnic Indians, who are demanding racial equality in the Muslim majority country. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.