How can we change perceptions about migrant workers?

Technical Officer for the Tripartite Action to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion

There are over 3 million migrant workers in Malaysia who play a vital role in the local economy. They keep households in order and look after children as domestic workers, prepare and serve food in restaurants around the country, manufacture key exports, and build the cities’ towering skyscrapers.

In addition to long hours and backbreaking work, many migrants are exploited or suffer from discrimination and abuse, including hazardous working conditions and unfair wages. They have trouble getting access to healthcare and sometimes even experience harassment from authorities – especially if they are undocumented. In some extreme cases, migrants end up in situations of forced labour or become victims of human trafficking.

A poor understanding of who migrant workers are and why they are in the country is a problem in Malaysia, and contributes to a situation where these issues persist.

A 2010 survey conducted by the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific found that the Malaysian public had limited understanding about the need for migrant workers in certain sectors, the positive contribution they make to the economy, and their right to equal treatment, including pay. It found instead that many Malaysians believe migrants are a drain on the economy, drive up the crime rate and don’t deserve to be paid as much as native-born Malaysians.

But the survey also found that if nationals know migrant workers – as friends, neighbours or colleagues – they are significantly more supportive of their rights.

We saw an opportunity for the Migration Works campaign (link) to capitalize on this finding.

So we decided to partner with MTV EXIT (a campaign that works to end human trafficking and exploitation) and produce a public service announcement (PSA) – Migration works for us all – highlighting the positive contribution of migrant workers to Malaysian society.

Public Service Announcement: Migration for for us all

The PSA profiles a domestic worker, a security guard, and a waiter, and challenges the audience to think beyond the job titles of migrant workers, and to recognize the significant contributions they make to Malaysia’s economy and society.

By focusing on what migrants and Malaysians have in common, rather than their differences, the PSA fosters greater understanding and appreciation of this contribution.

At Migration Works, we believe that when attitudes are informed and positive, so are actions. When the general public is made aware, and cares, their voices can influence policy makers, employers and the general public to ensure that migrants are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

The PSA will be launched through several online networks and disseminated through our social networks and on local Malaysian TV. Help us spread the word that migrants deserve to be treated fairly by sharing the PSA with your friends, family and followers.

Together, we can change perceptions and make a difference in the lives of migrants everywhere.

>> Get more information on the ILO’s portal on labour migration


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