IT was a nice touch by Coca-Cola and the Singapore Kindness Movement to design a limited edition of cans of the fizzy drink bearing messages of appreciation for foreign workers on them. And to top that, advertising boards of this campaign were placed on buildings being constructed there, the domain of migrant workers.

The project was effective in highlighting the contribution of foreign workers who built the city. However, there is a whole other side to this story, albeit, a darker one. Al Jazeera aired an episode of its 101 East segment, which provided a truer picture of the plight of the foreign work force. From poor working conditions to the ill-treatment of these workers by their employers, it’s hard to deny that the everyday life of these foreign workers is not a bed of roses.

While this was about the foreign workers in Singapore, I couldn’t help but reflect on the similar situation facing us in our country. In fact, I remember watching the Malaysian movie Kolumpo last year, which highlighted the working conditions of foreign workers from India in Kuala Lumpur.

As a rapidly growing city, Kuala Lumpur has seen an influx of foreign workers looking to earn a living. If you visit the city centre on weekends or public holidays, you won’t even feel like you’re in Malaysia. Large crowds of foreigners mill the streets to meet their friends.

The increasing number of crimes involving foreign workers have led to many of us having a negative perception of them. We become extra cautious whenever we’re surrounded by foreign workers. Some of us are uncomfortable with them, some are prejudiced against them, while some have nothing against them at all. Why are foreign workers not regarded “equals”? Aren’t they just like us?

I think we could have a more positive attitude towards them. After all, they are willing to take up low-wage jobs that locals don’t want. Be it skilled or unskilled, Malaysia has long relied on them as they still contribute to the country’s economy.

What if we were to put ourselves in their shoes? What would it feel like to be treated like second class citizens for simply wanting to earn a living or get an education in a foreign country?

So, instead of being cold and negative towards foreign workers, maybe we should be thinking about lobbying to better their working conditions in our country, and extending them some warm Malaysian hospitality.

The writer is a member of the BRATs young journalist programme. To apply to join the programme, message us at or email


Tell us what you think!

Go top