Migrants in Malaysia's tea estates

Migration for foreign employment has become a major source of income for a many Nepali households. Almost half of the Nepali households have at least one member working abroad. During the fiscal year of 2014, more than 520,000 labour permits were issued to Nepalis planning to work abroad. Malaysia is the number one destination country for Nepali migrants, closely followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait.

While Nepali workers might be happy working in certain Malaysian cities, every person, be it from Nepal of Bangladesh, hates toiling on the tea estates in Cameron Highlands. On my multiple visits to the tea estates in Cameron, especially Bharat Tea estate, I learnt that the workers are made to slog for hours and are not paid well for their hard work.

Firstly Nepali workers are not well informed and aware of the legal procedure of working overseas, hence they get cheated by the agents whom they end up paying NPR 50,000 to 2.5 lakhs just to get a job abroad.

As soon as they land in KL, their passport is confiscated by the agents on the other side. When they arrive at the tea estate, the work is nothing like they were told. The work hours are long, they get paid on the basis of the weight of the tea plucked. The company only provides a basket and sacks for free, everything else the workers have to buy from the company. The plucking machine itself costs 3000 MYR, which gets deducted in instalments every month from their minute salary. Scissors cost - 100 MYR Shoes - 24 MYR Machine to cut flowers - 1800 MYR Grass cutting machine - 1040 MYR

It is also very hazardous to work with these machines and there is no proper training provided to these men. Many workers end up losing a finger or two or hurting themselves in some other way. On an average these men end up earning just about 800 MYR/month after deducting the machinery cost. With that kind of earnings, these workers hardly manage to cover up the money paid to the manpower agent.

These workers have often stated that “They treat us like slaves. We feel like we are in a jail. Each day is hard to pass and we just wait for the end of our three years and leave this hell.”
Most men working on the tea estates in Cameron highlands are either from Nepal or Bangladesh.

Story and images by - Mithila Jariwala
Price - GBP 250