It is time that we stopped paying lip service to the wellbeing and occupational safety of workers, especially the foreign ones working in the construction sector, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
With the exception of a few individuals and civil society groups, there was practically no moral outrage expressed on a large scale by Malaysians as a whole over the tragic death of nine foreign workers who were buried alive by a landslide at Bukit Kukus in Penang on 19 October.
To put it on record, members of the Penang Forum collective and other individuals attended a peaceful assembly on 26 October 2018 to express their utter disgust over the Bukit Kukus tragedy and their deep concern over the general development of the state in front of the George Town City Hall building, where Penang Island city councillors were having their meeting at the time.
The lack of public outcry over the needless loss of lives of those who eked out a living and helped build our country is nothing less than abominable.
Even if there is indeed a whimper of public indignation, it doesn’t come near to one articulated by segments of our society when, for instance, it was feared or suspected that moral policing would cease completely.
Or, to take another example, [there was no outcry] equal in degree to the vehement protest against the holding of Oktoberfest in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere in the country.
While the authorities desperately seek the underlying cause of the landslide that led to the grisly deaths, not many people paid too much attention to the lost lives and the grief of their loved ones.
It appears that the lives of these foreign workers, who sweated in the scorching sun or braved the torrential rain in the line of duty, are worth much less than those of most Malaysians.
Such callousness doesn’t speak well of Malaysians, many of whom have no qualms about squeezing every ounce of the foreign workers’ sweat so long as their needs and wants are duly served.
To be clear, there are 1.8 million foreign workers in Malaysia who in many ways help to build this nation in various sectors of our economy, including the construction sector. Certain sectors could halt to a grind without foreign labour.
Such a skewed opinion of migrant workers on the part of some Malaysians can even border on xenophobia, which often lends legitimacy to the cruel and inhumane treatment of these foreign workers.
Many of these foreign workers are involved in menial work so that their deaths on the job don’t count for much to many Malaysians, thereby making their lives that much cheaper.
Nothing could be more instructive and despicable than to learn that the main contractor involved in the so-called Granito tragedy in Penang, where a landslide killed 11 workers a year ago, was slapped with a mere RM35,000 fine for failing to ensure occupational safety, health and welfare of its workers at the work site.
That is how much the lives of these foreign workers are worth!
It is time that the parties involved stopped paying lip service to the wellbeing and occupational safety of workers, especially the foreign ones working in the construction sector.
It is also time that the authorities in the country ceased their lackadaisical attitude towards Mother Nature as tampering with the environment would invariably court danger and, in turn, affect (foreign) workers.
In the Islamic tradition, human beings are said to be God’s vicegerents on earth and khalifah are tasked with taking good care of their relationship with God’s creation.
But with the way some of us have been treating our fellow beings, animals and Mother Nature, we have indeed failed big time.