Today, I dropped by to check out the Migrants Sunday celebrations organised by the Migrant Workers Support Centre on mainland Penang.
As I looked around at the gathering of workers from Burma, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, I couldn’t help thinking about the double standards we practise when we think of foreign workers.
Why should there be double standards when both categories comprise human beings, workers, who have come to our land to make an honest living?
Let’s look at some of the glaring differences:
- Often cheated. Contracts usually not worth the paper they are written on.
- Compulsory Fomema medical checks.
- Harassed on the streets and often asked for papers.
- Passports usually held by employers. Thus, they are “trapped” and suffer in silence.
- Usually negative media coverage – frequently linked to crime or social problems.
- Little recourse to justice or access to legal representation if employers fail to live up to terms of employment.
- Deplorable, crammed accommodation.
- Usually paid sub-poverty line or poverty-line wages.
- Unlikely to be given much annual leave.
- Often not medically insured – have to pay much higher medical bills at general hospitals.
- Agents and middlemen make fat profits from various “commissions”.
Expatriates (Why are they not called migrant workers too?)
- Usually have proper enforceable contracts.
- Unlikely to be whipped or sent to immigration detention centres.
- Usually in possession of their own passports.
- Favourable media coverage especially in the business press.
- Legal options and representation more readily available. Can leave if dissatisfied with employers.
- Usually above average accommodation provided.
- Usually highly paid.
- Usually given generous perks – including annual leave and medical insurance coverage.
- Usually no agents or middlemen involved. Employers deal directly with the workers concerned.
So why the discrimination? Is it a class thing, a racial thing, or blue-collar/white-collar discrimination? Or could it be that the former belong to the working class while the latter are part and parcel of the capitalist class? Why can’t they all be called – and treated as – “expatriate workers”, with the same rights and privileges?