Archive for March, 2016

I WAS having lunch recently with my staff at a Japanese restaurant in a major mall in Kuala Lumpur when one of them pointed out in a rather negative way that the restaurant, like many other eating outlets, was being run by Bangladeshis.

The other staff then asked, more out of curiosity, if they were really Bangladeshis. The waiter who was serving us was politely asked this question and he said he was from Nepal.

I then told my staff that it does not matter the nationality of foreign workers working there and if the locals were working there instead, I would probably end up paying more and getting a lousier service, which would be a double whammy for me.

Why should I have to endear paying more for a worse service when we believe in the open market and free competition in an increasingly borderless world?

I then explained how foreign workers have helped to develop our country and they do most of the dirty, shitty and dangerous work that most locals shunned, to get us where we are today and we owe much to them for our so-called success stories.

This xenophobia (irrational fear of and prejudice against foreigners) is actually quite widespread in our country based on many comments in the mainstream and online media, even from civil society activists and politicians who are known to be fair and open-minded and who should know better than to play to the gallery.

Xenophobia is a form of racism and racial bigotry. Islamophobia (fear and prejudice against Muslims) in the West can also be considered a form of xenophobia.

Those who are mistreating and looking down on foreign workers in our country are no different from the white supremacists and the Islamophobic Muslim haters in the West.

The recent social media videos of cowardly Malaysian bullies beating up helpless foreign workers (whether they are legal or illegal, it is a criminal and moral offence to assault them this way) have made me feel sickened and ashamed to be a Malaysian.

There should be a new law that makes such an offence punishable by public whipping of those convicted. Sure, there are cases of illegal immigrants committing violent crimes in our country but are we saying that the locals do not commit any violent crimes?

Our locals are far worse than the immigrants when it comes to committing violent crimes and fraud and on several occasions, some Malaysians had the global infamy of orchestrating credit card fraud and fixing football matches.

I am not condoning or promoting the presence of illegal foreign workers in our country, neither am I supporting the alleged flip-flop of government policies on the recruitment of foreign workers.

Those are separate issues to be addressed in a holistic, consistent and sustainable manner such as legalising refugees and illegal immigrants who are already here to be workers in the appropriate sectors.

My piece here is more aimed at challenging the general public misconceptions, prejudices and injustices suffered by our foreign workers in general.

The scenario about exploiting foreign workers was the same in Britain and Europe after the World War II when the governments there, due to a severe lack of manpower, actively promoted the migration of workers from their ex-colonies in Asia, West Indies and Africa to help rebuild their devastated countries and economies.

Many studies have shown that Europe would not have developed and prospered after WWII had it not been for the immense contribution of migrant workers.

Now, some decades later, right-wing racist NGOs and politicians are whipping up ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in Europe to blame the immigrants as convenient scapegoats for a host of their own economic and social problems.

As I have written many times before, using racism to divide, divert, distract and blame is a no-brainer, which even an illiterate person would know how to do. If a madman like Hitler knew how, those who are in mental hospitals would also know how if they were given a chance to be politicians.

But somehow and sadly, racism seems to work in most cases mainly due to institutional and governmental neglect (often covert and overt encouragement) and prejudices built up in the society concerned.

I was in Britain as a student in the seventies and remembered that overseas students were being lumped together as black immigrants with many racists even calling us “Pakis”.

During some summer vacations, I also worked in a steel mill when the white workers there took their breaks.

For those who have not experienced it, they have no idea of the indignity and degradation felt when being spewed with racist abuses.

As a purported part of the cutbacks in public expenditure (including education) in the seventies to boost a weak economy, but more exploiting the latent racism and xenophobia in Britain then, the government decided to impose very high, prohibitive and discriminatory tuition fees on overseas students, many of whom came from ex-colonies, where the resources had been exploited by Britain for centuries.

Overseas students protested for being made scapegoats for the economic ills and felt a strong sense of racial injustice and indignation.

The actual colour of the skin does not matter as racism is more a political ideology that became institutionalised in the West with the emergence of the black slave trade for the plantations in America.

An ideology was needed by the whites then to justify the barbaric treatment of the black slaves as sub-humans and soulless.

Back to the evil phenomenon of xenophobia in Malaysia, the government must deter, discourage and outlaw it in any new laws being drafted to promote racial harmony and multi-culturalism.

Our tourism industry would also be gravely affected if we get a bad name for mistreating our foreign workers.

As for the foreign maids that we hire, they help to free us so that we can concentrate on our productive and economic activities.

They also help in easing the social tension of many families. Many homemakers would testify that they would not be able to cope well looking after their families without the help of foreign maids.

There has to be a way to commemorate the positive role of foreign workers in the economic and social development of our country. I am not suggesting another public holiday but perhaps their contribution can be factored in more prominently in our May Day celebrations.

There has to be a lot more effort by the mainstream and online media to counter xenophobia.

All employers must also set an example by treating their foreign workers well, equally and with human dignity. There should be a national award given to an employer who treats foreign workers fairly, equitably and in the best possible manner.

The next time you see some foreign workers, do not perceive them as parasites or here to steal the jobs of locals.

Accept the fact that our economy, like others, is getting more globalised and borderless. See them as our friends who are invited here to help us develop and at the same time to earn a decent wage to support their poor families back home. A win-win situation.

Show them the respect that they duly deserve in the same way that you would want to be respected and treated well if you were a foreign worker in another country.

The writer has first-hand experience of being treated like a foreign worker in another country and knows how it felt to be racially abused and discriminated against.