21 August, 2010

Malaysia: Prospering on the sweat and blood of foreign workers

They earn only a monthly income of 420 ringgit (US$130) each, but have to pay the foreign worker levies, and are allowed to claim a maximum of two-hour overtime pay even though they actually worked 12 hours. Two workers — one on morning shift and the other on night shifts — take turn to share a bed, and 70 workers are squeezed into a unit that is meant to accommodate 30 people.

If all these claims are true, these workers are certainly miserably treated. It is surely hard to believe that there are still such inhumane practices in today’s modern society that promotes respect for human dignity and human rights.

We would never know that there is one of the world’s largest computer hard drive manufacturers in Johor Bahru if a Nepalese factory worker did not die of high fever and triggered a massive riot. We would never know either that the factory has actually recruited 5,000 of foreign workers.

Nepal is a poor country. Nepalese have no choice but to leave homes to earn a livelihood abroad. How well we can understand their suffering and grief? Could we hear them when they are crying somewhere in a dark corner? How many other grievances and injustice of the millions of foreign workers have not been revealed yet?

According to Johor state unity, human resources, science, technology and innovation committee chairman M. Asojan, the death of a Nepalese factory worker was what triggered off the riot, but the cause was the explosion of their frustration, anger and misery over the harsh environment they were forced to live in for a very long time.

It surely is not unreasonable for the Nepalese workers to demand for a more decent living condition. The issue is not simply about a riot by foreign workers, but a fight for reasonable treatment and basic human rights. The factory should openly explain to the public about the allegations made by the foreign workers and respond to their demands.

Obviously it is not easy to manage 5,000 foreign workers with different cultures, languages and religions. We also understand that low wages and costs are competitive advantages. However, there should be a balance between the pursuit of profit, and the pursuit of fairness and humanity.

Not only the factory should have a reflection, but the government should also make an in-depth review on our foreign worker policy. Factories keep saying that as there is a shortage of local manpower, they are forced to hire huge numbers of foreign workers.

However, if the factories are paying only 420 ringgit per month for each worker, how are they going to attract local workers?

While chasing our dream of becoming an advanced country, trying to enter the era of high-income and create economic miracles, should we forget about social fairness and justice? And how can we step on the vulnerable group of workers from foreign countries and leave a page of bloody and tearful history of oppressing foreign workers?


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