(Un)Popular Opinion

Why Make Foreign Workers The Butt Of Jokes When They’re Willing To Do The Jobs We Despise So Much?

The least you can do is to be respectful and have some sympathy.
(Un)Popular Opinion | As I reflect on recent events, particularly the celebration of Chinese New Year, I can’t help but ponder the attitudes we, as Malaysians, hold towards foreign workers living among us.

During the festive period, many Malaysians left for their hometowns to reunite with their families, leaving the once bustling cities extremely quiet.

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As such, thousands of foreign workers took the rare opportunity of spending their off days at shopping centres, a luxury most of them aren’t able to experience often.

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However, instead of letting them be, there has been a simmering sense of resentment towards the sight of foreign workers enjoying some respite.

What’s with the mocking of foreign workers?

But why is that? Shouldn’t we be happy to see others finding a chance to have a well deserved break over the course of two days?

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Foreign workers leisuring in klcc
Screenshot via TikTok/@incredible_haz & kaizu25_

Take, for example, the videos circulating on social media. Most, if not all, often come with snarky captions belittling foreign workers or using them as the subject of xenophobic jokes.

Not only is it degrading and disrespectful, it’s also a blatant violation of their privacy.

And then there’s the issue of body odour. We crinkle our noses in disgust, openly expressing our distaste for something that comes naturally due to physical exertion. Would we react the same if it were our fellow Malaysians? I highly doubt it.

3D: Dirty, dangerous, and demeaning

Many Malaysians would never want to admit it, but these workers are the backbone of our society, performing the jobs that many of us would never deign to do.

Bangladeshi workers
For illustration purposes only. Photo via Berita Harian

From cleaning toilets to handling toxic substances, they undertake tasks that are essential yet often overlooked and undervalued.

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We call these jobs the “3D” – dirty, dangerous, and demeaning. But what’s truly demeaning is our treatment of the people who carry them out faithfully. We turn a blind eye to their contributions, preferring to keep them invisible until their presence inconveniences us.

Bangladeshi workers
For illustration purposes only. Photo via Kosmo

Aside from the widespread mocking, foreign workers also face unfair and unsafe workplace treatment by unscrupulous employers, who look for every opportunity to squeeze them dry but deflect responsibility when something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, Malaysia doesn’t exactly have a strong labour union scene and as such, foreign workers are left at the mercy of their employers and have to endure constant derision from the public.

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Show compassion, not cruelty

Doing dirty and dangerous jobs can really hurt the workers’ bodies and minds. It leads to an early ‘retirement’, joint damage, and mental health problems like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as seeing some of their coworkers get hurt or even die while on the job scars them for life.

On the flip side, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) sheds light on why Malaysians often decline job opportunities in 3D industries.

Malaysians shun 3D jobs not because of low wages. The 3D jobs are looked down socially and people doubt the 3D jobs are given any recognition. 

Indeed, what’s there to envy about these jobs? Low pay, dangerous working conditions, and unreasonable bosses aren’t exactly attractive reasons for one to take the job.

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But if there’s one thing that stands consistent throughout their hardships, it would be that they do it out of deep love for their families.

One prime example of this was this foreign worker who earned RM4,200 monthly but sent RM4,000 of it to support his family, keeping only RM200 for himself.

Foreign worker eating rice and onion only
Photo via Fb/Penang Kini

Their living conditions aren’t exactly enviable either. They often share cramped accommodations with 8 to 10 or more people, and even their meals are shared, sometimes consisting only of rice with water as gravy and onions for flavour.

Given these circumstances, why subject foreign workers to unwarranted insults and discrimination? They’re humans like the rest of us and are trying to make an honest living.

We can all be better, and it starts by showing compassion to those who labour away at the jobs we so deeply despise.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and does not purport to reflect the opinions or views of WeirdKaya.

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