We, the undersigned civil society organisations, are utterly appalled by the announcement of Selangor state executive councillor for local government, public transport, new village development Ng Sze Han that foreigners will be made to pay for using Smart Selangor bus services from 2020 onwards.
The decision by the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat government to launch in 2014 the free bus services in areas underserved by public transport was laudable, with both Malaysians and foreigners – especially migrant workers – being among the beneficiaries.
We fully understand the financial constraints that the state government is currently facing, as a result of which restructuring of certain welfare policies may be necessary.
However, the right to public transport should be above nationality, and there should be no discrimination when it comes to delivering equitable bus services.
Malaysia has always been a diverse and multi-ethnic society, which is a boon rather than a bane. Being the richest state in the country, Selangor, in particular, has benefited from the contribution of a vibrant migrant workforce made up of multiple nationalities.
And the truth is, a vast majority of the factories in Selangor would be ground to a halt and many households would have their lives severely disrupted should all the migrant workers leave Malaysia suddenly. Our dependence on the migrant labour force is simply too great to be overlooked and ignored.
Migrant workers are predominantly found in sectors shunned by many Malaysians: domestic work, manufacturing, plantation and construction, to name a few – and they are doing what has been notoriously known as 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs – in return for meagre salaries.
In fact, the statement by Prof Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, during his visit to Malaysia, points out that “despite their ubiquity in the Malaysian labour force, migrant workers are set up for exploitation by a confluence of unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, harsh immigration policy and a lack of enforcement of labour protections”.
Alston counts this group of people among the poorest in the country, alongside the indigenous peoples, refugees, the stateless, the disabled and the elderly.
It goes without saying that many migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees commute to work by bus; there are also a significant number of foreign spouses, married to low-income Malaysians, who rely on public transport as a car or a motorcycle is simply financially out of reach for them.
If the Pakatan Harapan government truly aspires to make “shared prosperity” a reality by “leaving no one behind”, it should first and foremost ensure that the lower-income groups are taken care of.
Hence, the decision by the Selangor government to impose bus fares only on foreigners defies logic.
Furthermore, segregating public transport users by nationality – as the denial of monthly Rapid KL passes to foreigners has done – is xenophobic in nature.
The Declaration on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance against Migrants and Trafficked Persons defines xenophobia as “attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity”.
It is depressing that most Malaysians also harbour negative attitudes towards migrant workers.
In a study conducted by the International Labour Organization in 2013, of the Malaysian respondents surveyed:
- more than 70% informed that “migrant workers cannot expect the same pay for the same job”
- only close to 60% believed “national and migrant workers should be treated equally”
- more than 60% saw migrant workers as “a drain on the national economy” while a staggering 77% considered migrants as “threatening the country’s culture and heritage”
despite about a third of the agricultural, manufacturing and construction workforce being migrants – industries which collectively contributed RM297bn or 35.7% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product in 2014, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Seen in this light, excluding migrant workers from the benefit of free Smart Selangor bus services and monthly passes is tantamount to emboldening, or even rewarding, Malaysians for their xenophobic attitude.
Most saddening is that migrant workers are not accorded equal respect that they deserve as human beings, all because they do not have a vote and their voice simply doesn’t matter in Malaysia’s electoral politics.
Last but not least, that a relatively well-to-do Malaysian gets to enjoy free buses plying Malaysian roads while a poor migrant worker – who may very well be saddled with huge debts because of exorbitant recruitment fees – must pay for a ride can hardly be said to be fair and just at all.
In other words, it is only fair and just if the Selangor government charges all Smart Selangor bus users the same fare or continues to provide free bus services for all regardless of race, religion and nationality – for equal treatment is the least that Malaysia can do as a token of appreciation of the foreigners who have a stake in making Malaysia a better place to live in for all of us.
- Agora Society
- Asosasyon Ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas in Malaysia (Ammpo)
- Beyond Borders Malaysia
- Civil Rights Committee of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
- Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
- Gerakan Mahasiswa Maju Universiti Putra Malaysia
- Happy Learning Books
- Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
- International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)
- Johor Yellow Flame (JYF)
- Justice for Sisters
- Migrant Care
- Monsoons Malaysia
- North South Initiative
- Our Journey
- Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
- Penang Heritage Trust (PHT)
- Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)
- Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur (Prihatin)
- Persatuan Pendidikan Amal Pulau Pinang (Peco)
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
- Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan
- Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
- Same Fare or No Fare
- Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
- Sunflower Electoral Education Movement (Seed)
- Tanjung Bungah Residents Association (TBRA)
- Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
- University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)