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Don't have a blinkered view of foreign workers

Publication Date : 16-12-2013

 

The riot in Little India in Singapore has created ripples not only within the republic but also in the region.

Questions remain as to whether that was an isolated incident, or the tip of the iceberg of simmering discontent waiting to come out in the open.

For a well-managed and highly-regulated society like Singapore, such incidents, even if minor, tend to become major talking points.

But what about here in Malaysia where the presence of foreigners is so large and extends across various sectors?

Globally, the way foreigners congregate is similar. Even in the most developed countries, foreigners tend to stick together in enclaves that set them apart after a while. As strangers in a strange land, this is somehow a survival instinct that gives them a sense of security.

So while it is necessary for the police and the immigration department to be alert over the goings-on at such foreign enclaves, we also have to be careful that we do not tar every community with the same brush.

And while the Malaysian Employers Federation also wants employers and the authorities to work together to prevent such incidents from happening here, it must also be mindful of the role they play as good employers.

Foreign labour proliferates because it is cheap. Even in sectors where their presence is not encouraged, like in the services sector, employers have always been able to get round this condition by claiming that they are not able to hire locals.

As one criminologist puts it, pent-up emotions due to harsh working conditions and a variety of factors can boil over into acts of group violence such as rioting.

Our authorities, by all means, should be alert and flush out the criminals and the illegals, but they also need to be careful that they do not go overboard in the operations they conduct.

We have been through a stage where we would blame the foreigners for every petty crime committed until we realise that in reality, our locals are the ones who are the bigger culprits.

And even when a riot such as the one in Singapore occurs, we have to be clear as to the real reasons and not implicitly connect the action to a particular ethnic group, foreign or otherwise, simply because they form the majority at the scene.

Our Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Jaem has pointed out that foreign workers in Malaysia are generally a contented lot.

The majority of those who employ these foreign workers, whether as construction workers, restaurant waiters or domestic helpers, will testify that their presence is not only welcomed, but necessary.

We should make sure that those who are here to earn a decent living far away from their loved ones do not cower in fear because foreign workers are all deemed “potentially dangerous”. That would not be the right way to view our fellow human beings.

 

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