Exodus in motion – migrant sweep on

Two weeks ago Utusan Malaysia stated coldly that anyone from the Indonesian islands had the same claim to Malaysia as constitutional Malays. This was in response to all the postulations by various quarters on the validity of claiming who were the original settlers of the peninsula.

So by extension, Syed Hamid Albar can be considered not new since his family is from Sumatra when his dad came over. Same goes for Khir Toyo’s Javanese migrant dad. They are all from the nusantara.

So they all are orang asal.

If you follow that logic – which usually requires the suspension of reason – then the corollary question emerging is why has the deputy prime minister assured that we will dissipate our foreign workers numbers 400,000 yearly till 2010?

Surely the deputy prime minister is kicking out – since the bulk of the workers are Indonesians – those who have fundamental rights in this country.

Someone has to be wrong in this case. Or is this standard Umno rationalisation where facts and figures exist in vacuums used selectively with no consideration of how they affect other equations? It probably is.

Just

If the government is unwilling to wrestle that conundrum then they might want to deal with the problem of being humane to the workers they are letting go here in Malaysia.

The government is aware of the agents system, and indeed lets it manage the employment of workers here in Malaysia. The system has evolved to companies outsourcing foreign labour from agencies rather than contracting the workers directly.

There is a web of interest with the workers at the bottom in terms of leverage.

Therefore we allow the perpetuation of a system which requires long term employment in order for the worker to repay the cost of employment (flights, fees and bribes) – benefit from their labour, but quick to do away with them when the situation warrants it.

We might want to stop a second and consider that we are dealing with human beings and their lives – these are not just abstract factors of production.

You think long and hard before you allow for the labour system to thrive, since you can’t ‘take back’ the moment it becomes slightly inconvenient.

The paramilitary forces

It is Christmas for the Rela boys and girls. Since there is a directive to go harder against migrants, all remaining restraints in harassing them will disappear. There will be a constant sense of violence in Kuala Lumpur central on Sundays as people who are uncertain of jobs but certain of harassment tend to be on edge.

For the free-market Rela lads, they can squeeze the foreigners for all they are worth.

It is amazing this human play we put on. Getting our own blue-collared workers – serenading as Rela volunteers with batons ready and guns soon – having a real go at those who take the low-paying jobs the locals ignore. A tightening economy might mean a need to take those less savoury jobs and to beat those who hold them now, out of the country.

The spreading word that Malaysia is a vindictive place to work in, will only gain more traction.

Kindness

There are migrants in any successful economy – legal and illegal. Just like the thousands that descend on South Africa from elsewhere in the continent because in relative terms it is heaven. Just like the Malaysians who arrive in Heathrow and disappear into the tawdry cities for jobs.

In all these instances there is an expectation that the host governments recognise the economic dimension of the issue and consider the value proposition they bring whilst weighing their social cost. Both, not just one.

Malaysia is that exception. Here we are quick to treat our migrant workers badly, in good and bad times. And with economic uncertainty looming over the nation, I shudder what is in store for our now unwanted factors of production.

It is cyclical. In 2005 a feverish period of catching and deporting reduced numbers by 398, 758 , and in the immediate aftermath the government conceded a 350,000 to 400,000 shortage of workers in the plantation sector. The deputy prime minister then promised to fast-track the processing of foreign workers.

We wheel and deal people, and home ministries oversees this travesty.

And it is common knowledge the home minister is a vengeful fellow, even if he is a migrant’s son.

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