Well-deserved boomerang hits Malaysia by Anya Palm

7. Sep 2009

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His job consists of getting palm fruits down, either by climbing up the meter-high palm trees or use a picking knife, a sharp seal strapped on a two-meter long stick, that he lifts up and manages around in the treetop. The knife is wildy difficult to manage and if he loses control, it comes down at high speed and impossible to stop in the fall. Death accidents are not uncommon. The three Ds in 3D stand for Difficult, Dirty and Dangerous and usually the wages are low and the hours long. Being a relatively prosperous country surrounded by very poor countries, however, Malaysia never had any problems filling these positions. They are filled by people like Ainudin, who comes from Indonesia and is in Malaysia for the second time. Last time, he was caught with no passport – his employer had confiscated it – and took a severe beating from the police, before he was shipped off back to Indonesia. –         I came home, but then I started working to get back again, because I could not find a job in Indonesia and my family is very poor, he explains. His story is very common. Till recently, Malaysia had about 2,1 million immigrant workers, mainly from Indonesia and Bangladesh, and nearly all of them worked in 3D jobs. When the economic crisis hit Malaysia all this changed drastically. In January, the government started invoking laws to rid the country of migrant workers in order to avoid skyrocketing unemployement and save jobs for the Malaysian citizens. First order of business was revoking 45,000 visas for Bangladeshi workers and then systematically terminate contracts and deport people out of the country. The  already overfilled deportation camps were strained beyond the max and in May, two Burmese workers died of illness due to poor hygiene in the camps. Despite these unpleasant events, the Malaysian government continued to tighten the foreign worker laws, craving the employer to pay a fee for every foreign worker and even send out patrols to catch foreign workers, who had gone into hiding to avoid deportation. When caught, the workers got caned, fined and was then shipped home. “Malaysians first,” was the unsympathetic slogan, the government officials repeated in newspapers, TV-rapports and radio. Useless union presidents in all sectors backed up this policy. One of the most important – Malaysia’s Trade Union Congress – simply suggested a freeze on taking in immigrants. –         I know this is not very politically correct. But in time of crisis, we have to think of our own people first, said the general secretary, G Rajasekaran at the time. During the first six months of 2009, Malaysia deported around 300,000 people. An additional half a million went into hiding in fear of deportation. Knowledge of the situation these people were thrown into – either shipped off to extreme poverty or living in a parallel world hidden from the authorities – makes it even worse to now find out that all this was in vain. Malaysian business these days, are suffering a labor shortage  – Malaysians will not take the loathed 3D-jobs and employers cannot afford the extra fee, that the government put on them, if they use foreign labor. It is scaringly incompetent governance  not to investigate the possible consequenses of own laws. When people are laid off in large numbers, it is not very difficult to foresee this is going to create a vacuum. And it is even more deterring that not even the unions backed them up. Today, the hundreds of thousands of foreign immigrants are long gone and forgotten about. The Malaysian government faces the boomerang effect of their harsh laws and has a growing labor shortage to deal with. Remaining workers are put on overtime to fill in the holes and small businesses forced to close down. This – however sad it may be – does create a window of opportunity. With the urgent need of immigrant workers, it screams to heaven that somebody should start demanding better wages and better conditions for immigrant workers in Malaysia. There is a NEED for them which Malaysia has never admitted to before. Someone should take this opportunity to use this new situation to rid the jobs from the unfortunate 3Ds and someone should make an effort to care for this massive group of people, who are by far the most vulnerable in the market. Only one question remains, though. Who?