Estate workers want probe on NUPW

Disgruntled plantation workers want the government to investigate the affairs of their union for alleged mismanagement.

KUALA LUMPUR: Unhappy estate workers want the government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to step in and investigate the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) for alleged misappropriations dating back to the 1980s and poor management of workers’ contributions.

They said the government must step in to address issues affecting the members, especially shares in financial institutions and the Great Alonioners Corporation Trading Ltd (Gatco).

Speaking to FMT recently, K Selvam, who has been a union member since 2000, said that he was preparing documentation for submission to the Human Resources Ministry and the MACC.

He said the documentation involved RM2 million worth of shares which the union had invested in (the former) Bank Buruh on behalf of its members.

“I have just received confirmation from the Department of Trade Union Affairs in the ministry that the shares were sold in 1991.

“NUPW disclosed the sale in its 1991 financial statement but the question is, where did the money go?

“This is the union for plantation workers… it is not a rich union… this money belongs to poor Indians,” he said.

Last week, FMT reported that NUPW had sold 2,012,400 units of shares in the then Bank Buruh. Each unit was priced at RM1. NUPW had at the time invested just over RM2 million in the shares.

The union had also invested RM9,866.67 in the (former) United Asian Bank Bhd and RM450,000 in United Oriental Assurance Sdn Bhd.

He said that there was no information on where the revenue from the sales of these shares went or how much they were sold for.

First Indian cooperative

Meanwhile, a check by FMT showed a string of other “investments” and “sales” that the members were not notified about.

One member, who declined to be named, said they were curious to know what happend to Gatco.

“Today, we are only talking about Maika Holdings but what about Gatco? There were millions of ringgit involved.

“Gatco was one of the first Indian-based cooperatives in the country. NUPW set it up as an cooperative built on the hard-earned money of estate workers.

“We want to know what happened to it. We want the union to come forward and explain about Gatco and its account as well,” he said, adding that there were other issues including the PPN hostel, which members want the NUPW to clarify.

Gatco, which was worth millions, was formed by its first secretary-general PP Narayanan in 1967, with the money collected from the plantation workers.

It is believed that Gatco, a public-limited liability company, had an authorised capital of RM30 million.

Owned by Indian plantation workers, Gatco acquired two rubber estates – Lapan Hutan Estate in Selangor and Caning Estate, Kelantan – in addition to Dovenby Estate in Sungai Siput, Perak.

But NUPW, which was set up to look after the interest of estate workers, however, failed to live up to its role.

Wasted millions

As a result of poor management, all the estates were taken over by the National Land and Finance Coperative Society (NLFCS).

Gatco also invested millions of ringgit in multi-level bussiness such as textiles, essential oil, and invesment companies like Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles, Parry’s Confectionery, Asian Holding Sdn Bhd, JG Container Sdn Bhd, Tatab Industries, Sri Sai Oils and Oleoresins, Pan Century Edible Oil and Ambadi Engneering Bhd.

Among the companies, Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles was the most expensive and favoured invesment of Gatco.

NUPW invested RM3.26 million in Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles through Gatco.

In 1988, NUPW decided to sell Gatco shares. It lost RM 3.45 million.

Similar investments in other companies also did not bring benefits to the workers. On the whole. Gatco suffered losses close to RM5.5 million.

Gatco was the biggest failure in plantation history and the workers have pinned the blame on NUPW’s poor and corrupt management.

Despite the dismal failure, the union leadership has profited, the workers claimed.

For instance, Narayanan, the NUPW secretary-general at the time, was also Gatco managing director with a paid salary and perks. Several other “select union leaders” also sat on Gatco-linked companies and enjoyed perks that went with the position.

PPN Students’ Hostel

Meanwhile, the PPN Students’ Hostel, which was set up to assist the children of plantation workers pursuing their education in the city, became mired in debt when its owners, NUPW, could not service a RM1.5 million mortage it secretly took from a bank.

Unable to meet the payments, the bank moved in and decided to demolish the hostel and re-develop it as a luxury condominium .

“The union agreed to give the land away to the bank on condition that the developer gave NUPW 40 units as compensation.”

“There are rumours that the union had sold eight of the 40 units. The rest of the units are being rented out for RM1,200 per unit per month.

“That means NUPW is earning RM38,400 from this property alone,” said another union member from Negri Sembilan.

He also said that the workers were angry that a unit had recently been sold for below the market price.

“We heard the union sold a unit for RM300,000 but the market price is more than RM400,000,” he said.

He added that NUPW had told the workers that the money would be used to conduct leadership courses for the state union chairmen.

“All this is a waste of our money. We want the government to step in… we want a special team to probe into the misappropriation in NUPW,” he said. - FMT

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