By Dr Shahrina Ismail
The total number of workers in Malaysia in 2019 was estimated to be in the range of 2.96 million to 3.26 million. Of these, the number of foreign workers was estimated at 1.23 million to 1.46 million.
Their living quarters are congested and crowded, with inadequate ventilation, poor hygiene and restricted access to clean water; all of which are elements for breeding and spreading infectious diseases.
This impedes personal measures needed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among them.
As we have seen, since the start of the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO), there has been a fluctuation in the number of cases involving foreign workers.
Interview of foreign workers
Following this, the authors decided to interview 30 foreign workers (76.9 per cent male and 23.1 per cent female) scattered around Negeri Sembilan during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) to dive in and understand their living conditions and practices in preventing the COVID-19 outbreak.
The foreign workers were chosen across different industries and countries of origin. Among the 30 respondents, 26.9 per cent were Pakistanis; 23.1 per cent Bangladeshis; 15.4 per cent each were Nepalis and Indonesians; 7.7 per cent each were Cambodians and Myanmar, while 3.8 per cent were Vietnamese.
Their ages ranged from 23 to 46 years and they had spent roughly six months to 12 years in Malaysia.
Due to the language barrier, the authors conducted a one-to-one interview. Most of them were familiar with the Malay language.
When asked about the most preferred platform for receiving information on COVID-19, up to 76.67 per cent of them opted for Facebook, followed by radio and television.
In terms of their jobs, 66.67 per cent of them worked in the services industry (as maids, security guards, carwash workers and cleaners), while 20 per cent worked in the food industry and 13.33 per cent in the construction industry.
Up to 57.7 per cent of them said that due to COVID-19, they were temporarily out of job, while 42.3 per cent (most from the services industry) said they were still required to work during the pandemic.
COVID-19 prevention approaches
When asked if they were aware of the prevention approaches, for example washing/sanitising their hands, wearing face mask, and implementing physical distancing of one metre, all of them said they and their housemates take the preventive measures seriously as they did not want to fall sick.
Some even said that they are very particular on cleanliness where they wash clothes separately after coming back home to ensure that they do not spread the virus to others.
However, in terms of physical distancing, it was quite difficult to be implemented among them, as their living space is quite crowded.
All of them, when interviewed, wore face masks and said they even carry extras with them.
Basic food aid
When asked about their salary, 42.3 per cent of them said they received full salary from their employer.
Another 42.3 per cent said they only received a certain amount of salary, while 15.4 per cent said they did not receive any salary due to no work.
Interestingly, most of them who received a certain amount or no salary said that their employer was kind enough to provide them with basic food such as rice, bread, etc.
Hats off to those employers who were willing to give a helping hand in looking after their foreign-worker staff during this crisis.
When asked about the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases among foreign workers, 92.6 per cent of them said they were aware and have taken preventive measures, such as not making any contact with those in the red and yellow zones.
Some of them commented that it is better to stay safe than to have regrets later.
The respondents were also asked if they were afraid and feeling sad due to the pandemic.
The response varied among them, where 80 per cent of them said that they were afraid and worried about their family members back in their country.
Malaysia did a good job in containing the crisis, but things are different back in their country.
We still remember one of the respondents said “I am not afraid as I pray five times a day. This disease came from Allah SWT for a good reason. Keep praying and look after yourself.”
COVID-19 screening test
The authors also inquired if the respondents underwent the COVID-19 screening test. Forty per cent of them said their company arranged for them to undergo the screening to ensure that they are healthy before coming back to work.
On the other hand, 33.33 per cent of them said they have filled in the form and are waiting to be called as the screening is conducted in stages.
Sadly, 26.6 per cent of them said that they do not feel it is necessary to undergo the screening provided that they do not feel sick.
This shows lack of knowledge among them as there exist COVID-19 patients who do not show any symptoms.
When further inquired about the symptoms, they said the most common symptoms are fever and difficulty in breathing.
They also said that they preferred to avoid going to hospitals or clinics as they fear catching the virus in those places.
At the end of the interview session, the authors gave some advice on looking after their health and taking preventive measures to avoid being infected by COVID-19. — BERNAMA
- Writer is lecturer with the Faculty of Science and Technology at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM).