The Indonesian ambassador said it in plain language: it was disappointing that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two nations on the recruitment of Indonesian workers was reportedly breached.
Indonesia dutifully pulled the brakes to protect the dignity of its citizens and said it would not be sending its citizens here to slog for Malaysia’s prosperity if their rights as agreed in the MoU were denied.
The home minister took a haughty stance by saying that Malaysia could always get its cheap labour from many other countries.
That confidence must have stemmed from the Ministry of Human Resources recent sojourn to secure Bangladeshi citizens by the tens of thousands.
But the Bangladeshi government has been concerned about the high recruitment costs faced by its workers and a controversy over a recruitment syndicate.
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This has now prompted Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to issue a guarantee that Bangladeshi workers would not be exploited or face discrimination in Malaysia.
Several business associations in Malaysia say they are unable to get enough workers as Malaysians “are just not interested in working in factories that are not air-conditioned”.
They even reportedly issued a veiled ultimatum with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry: some manufacturers might even move to neighbouring countries if their problems were unresolved.
Let truth be told. Who says Malaysians do not want the so-called “3D jobs” – dirty, difficult and dangerous? That is the world’s worst manufactured lie, if not an illusion.
From motor workshops to house maintenance and repair works, including air conditioning repairs, roof tiling, carpentry, painting and plumbing, many Malaysians – including Malays, Chinese and Indians – are slogging it out in the rain and sun.
Look at the mushrooming of food and parcel delivery services done on motorbikes and non-air-conditioned lorries or vans.
In the rain and sun, Malaysians are doing these jobs when displaced from regular employment or in search of additional income to cope with hard times. Mind you, such delivery jobs are no walk in the park.
What about the ‘ikan-sayur’ (fish and vegetable) men and women who drive their vans daily, seven days a week without fail, to bring fresh food supplies to your doorstep?
Or the Malaysian newspaper vendor who never fails to deliver your newspapers, rain or shine. They go to work in the wee hours of the morning and have only a bare minimum number of public holidays to enjoy.
Many of these jobs are dirty, difficult and dangerous too.
There are so many more of these 3D jobs that are being done by Malaysians. Many Malaysian workers are also working in 3D jobs in neighbouring countries for a higher pay.
That is the stark truth. Stop denying it.
So if businesses want to continue to exploit poor government planning and policies with threats of abandoning Malaysia, the leaders should tell them to take a walk.
The season of making easy money on the back of cheap migrant labour is over. The government and the business communities must own up to this truth.
There is no more easy money for you. You either make your profits by upholding human rights and the dignity of labour and livelihoods – or face reality.
Let our ministers, political party big wigs and business captains be warned: every country around us is becoming more aware and serious about protecting their citizens, especially those leaving for work outside their respective countries. Every one of our neighbouring countries is moving forward to ensure that their workers are not exploited.
If Malaysians do not take the bull by the horns now, soon that bull called Greed is going to drag our future down with it.