The migrant workers deserve more than our sympathy; they need concrete help, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent movement control order have obviously affected everyone in Malaysia, including workers from foreign lands.
Migrant workers in Malaysia, according to rights advocacy group Tenaganita, have been left in the lurch by employers ever since the order was enforced.
What is alarming is that these workers have been reportedly abandoned without being given wages that would have enabled them to buy food and other basic necessities, such as medicine.
Complaints of wage payment defaults by employers mainly come from workers in the manufacturing, construction, oil palm plantation and vegetable farm sectors, where work has ceased with the implementation of the movement control order.
Worse, many of them, including the penniless whom are daily-wage workers, do not dare to venture out of their cramped dwellings to get food distributed freely by civil society groups for fear of being arrested by the authorities.
These workers, numbering nearly 2 million, originate from 15 countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam, and have come to this country to seek employment, usually in low-skilled jobs.
Starvation among them, partly as a result of irresponsibility on the part of some employers, is not only appalling in human terms but could also make them easily vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus.
And yet in normal times, these are the very workers who are much sought after for their grit, stamina, docility, physical strength and, of course, relatively cheap labour.
These are the workers who, for instance, carry out death-defying feats like working on the tall scaffolding of a planned skyscraper under the scorching sun.
New housing areas would not have materialised had there not been the migrant workers who tirelessly laid the bricks of houses.
And thanks to the workers who helped in the production of palm oil in our plantations across the country, the product has become one of the country’s major income earners.
In other words, they are in many ways a contributory factor to the country’s rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector, urbanisation and soci-economic progress in general.
We should also be mindful that quite often these workers work in a way that risks their health and safety – and thereby, affecting the future of their loved ones – primarily because certain employers knowingly flout safety rules and cut corners.
These recalcitrant employers must be made accountable by the authorities concerned to ensure the rights of these migrant workers (particularly the wages that are rightfully theirs) are protected and their health well protected.
More than that, it is hoped that on humanitarian grounds, the government would include these migrant workers in its endeavour to help marginalised groups in the country badly affected under present circumstances, especially when the movement control order period could possibly be extended further.
To be sure, these workers, who are at times convenient objects of exploitation, are economically vulnerable and have nowhere to go.
While it is appreciated that civil society groups, such as Tenaganita, Penang Stop Human Trafficking CamThe migrant workers deserve more than our sympathy. They need concrete help.paign, Aspire Penang and Penang Working Group, are doing their bit to help alleviate the economic hardships of the migrant workers during these trying times, government intervention in this regard is indeed crucial.
The migrant workers deserve more than our sympathy. They need concrete help.