When the news broke just the other day about the pedestrian bridge collapse that occurred at KL Eco City, near Mid Valley, we were all at the office. And my immediate thought? “I hope no construction workers were affected…” When I knew, deep down right in my gut that there would definitely have been a casualty – and most likely a foreign worker.
Sure, news doesn’t spread in the way it used to. That means our reactions to it, or our sentiments, as a collective, are different to how it is now. In the past, we would have gone about our day, gone home to turn on the local news, to see what happened… Then moved on. Now, you get the notification probably within the hour after the incident and it hits you when you’re at work or out and about. Your day immediately turns on its head. You start thinking, “What if it were us on that bridge? What if it were our parents?”
As the news developed, we learned that the foreign workers were having their lunch near the bridge when it started to shake and collapsed. One Vietnamese worker, unfortunately, lost his life, while five others had serious injuries – one losing his leg at the site of the incident due to it being crushed.
Every day we see the plights of foreign workers in our country. They’re the ones up at the crack of dawn, and I see them walking to work (when we gripe about not being able to get a Grab or parking space), or still digging, hacking, slogging away at 8PM when we’re exhausted and navigating the roads home. The work ethic and dedication and sacrifice seems to rival the best of us, yet they’re just considered aliens, foreigners, an unwelcome bunch.
You see the conditions they put up with and how they live, as they hang their clothing along makeshift lines and wash their laundry in a bucket. Toilets are presumably communal and from what I sometimes see, showering is also from a bucket or collected water from a hose. Some days, when it’s the fasting month and the heat is getting to me, and I’m driving in a climate-controlled car and see workers on the roofs of buildings, I suddenly feel so much shame, and wonder if there is any way, at all, to help. You eventually wonder how good can it be here — that it would justify them leaving their family and home behind to make a better “life”. And their Malaysian bosses would probably squeeze every last RM800 from each labourer.
They’re also the ones patrolling the streets in their crisp white jaga uniforms, lifting up their hands and giving you a smile as you drive past. They sit in shopping mall parking lots and by the boomgates as a security measure, but to what end? To breathe in car fumes for a (modest) living wage? They care for our children while we have a chance to work and make a better life (and a better world, we’d hope). To my helpers at home who left their own families to care for my son while I work long hours at the office, how do I begin to thank you?
Despite all that, there are sentiments out there that are quite negative. “I don’t want my children to be raised by a maid. My daughter started speaking Filipino and I got the shock of my life!” If there are any crimes? “I bet it’s all those Indonesian workers.” If you wanted to visit a certain corner in town? “Oh man, it’s been taken over by Bangladeshis, I’m not going there!”
In the recent incident, we see immediately that it was a foreign worker who lost his life. We can’t imagine how his family must feel to hear the news, or how it even came to this. To all the foreign workers in Malaysia, for all the dedication, hard work, sacrifice and contributions you’ve made to our worlds, please know this: Thank you for everything. And honestly? Sorry that we’re such a helpless bunch sometimes, and we really, really hope things get better.
For the rest of us, it’s never too late to begin to make a change. However small it may be. It probably wouldn’t hurt to smile at your condo’s jagas the next time – or double up your pizza delivery order so you can share it with them. Or when it’s a heatwave, stock up on bottles of 100 Plus for them to make it through the day. They deserve it, seemingly, more than we do.