The arraignment of a contractor who allegedly dumped his own migrant worker on the roadside, after he was badly injured doing his job, sparked shock and condemnation. But, in reality, this savage act comes as no surprise.
It merely confirms the ruthlessness of a society which is prepared to exploit anyone and anything at the altar of money. It confirms the commodification of people, especially the more vulnerable we treat as “inferior beings”.
But before the story of Jaiteh Lamin is destined to the history books and until we report the next “shocking” story, we should take an introspective look and understand how discrimination and racism have become institutionalised.
The exploitation of foreign workers has been around for several years, with many engaged illegally, paid below the minimum wage and given no access to basic social services. In other words, they are mere cogs in a wheel. We keep receiving reports of workers’ wages being denied completely or partially, together with occupational health and safety breaches, and people forced to work inhumane hours.
The horse has bolted and only a change in narrative, the introduction of effective policies and education can extract us from the selfish and exploitative society we have become
Their unscrupulous employers feel they can get away with paying them a pittance and under the tax radar to such an extent they can employ them by the dozen. Many are engaged in the construction sector, but complaints from workers engaged in sectors like delivery services and catering are also common.
The contractor charged in court apparently panicked when the incident happened and chose to dump the worker on the roadside rather than rush him to hospital to treat his serious injuries. In a nutshell, the ramifications of being caught out outweighed the safety and life of a worker, a fellow human being.
This reflects a crass system we have normalised. Let’s be brutally honest: most of us have come across or even engaged the ‘cheap’ labourer, who we often refer denigratingly as “l-iswed (the black one)”. Never mind his undignified conditions or the fact he’s being exploited or facing potential danger daily. If we can spare a few euros without alerting the taxman, then we’re sorted no?
We should stop living under the illusion that our society welcomes foreign workers, especially those involved in manual labour. Suffice it to recall the way Economy Minister Silvio Schembri told foreign workers to go back to their country the minute COVID-19 came to Malta, failing to realise our economy was largely built with their contribution.
And yet, because Lamin’s pain was brought to the fore, politicians lined up to pontificate and condemn the act on Facebook when many contributed to normalising the ‘system’.
It is dishonest to suddenly hear politicians and people in authority talk about the need to welcome everyone, when you consider the way their consistent racialised and xenophobic political rhetoric fed into human rights violations. Yes, we could have done more to try stop Lamin from being involved in a terrible accident and his boss from allegedly trying to cover it all up.
We should have made sure the institutions that were specifically set up to avoid such crimes happening were strong enough to protect workers and clamp down on racism. If that were the case, maybe Lamin wouldn’t be in a hospital bed with a fractured spine, if that were the case Lassana Cisse could still be alive…
The horse has bolted and only a change in narrative, the introduction of effective policies and education can extract us from the selfish and exploitative society we have become.
It is encouraging to see the launch of the anti-racism strategy but we can only hope the long-overdue action plan is actually implemented. Unless we do this, we will continue seeing exploitation, racism and savagery festering daily under our own very noses.
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