They move among us like shadows. We see them all day and we do our best to avoid making contact. Malaysia’s plural society, where ethnicity and profession are strongly associated, has become more plural, with the country’s relative wealth attracting foreigners in the region to come and do the jobs we disdain. Migrant workers are often ignored socially, but that is the least of their problems. What causes the most heartache for them is that they are legally ignored. Their pain is our shame.
Many accusing fingers are pointed when foreign labour and its implications are discussed in this country. The mere mention of migrant workers is usually greeted with a sneer, and when not, it is because of indifference. Foreign workers are often seen as a wage depressant, and accused of “taking” jobs away from locals. While the federal government has pledged to reduce the influx of foreign labourers, their number has soared from 1,470,000 in 2004 to 2,100,000 in 2009.
Recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called on the nation to shift to a high income economy by adopting an approach based on “innovation, creativity and high valueadded initiative”. 1
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