Hoping for jobs by the roadside — a day in the life of foreign labourers

Luck plays a big role in this kind of job hunt and Covid-19 has diminished the chances, leaving these migrant workers frustrated after hours of waiting

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

PRIOR to the pandemic, foreign labourers who relied on daily wages would be able to get any odd jobs on the streets with an hourly pay.

Covid-19 has changed that now with movement restrictions put in place to curb the virus, where 3D (dangerous, dirty, difficult) jobs are scarce as companies and sectors that were shut since mid-March are only gradually starting to reopen.

Luck plays a big role in this kind of job hunt and the virus outbreak has diminished the chances, leaving these migrant workers frustrated after hours of waiting.

Known as a catch-out corner, a job corner, break corner or labour pool, the modus operandi of these job seekers are similar.

As early as 8am, they walk to the location not far from their rented place and wait for vehicles that bring those jobs for the day.

By 9am, the number of job seekers at the corner would grow to about 30 people, mostly foreigners from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

When a prospective employer slows down and pulls over, a dozen men run to the vehicle and fight for the job opportunity that has driven in, although the slot is normally for two or three people only.

After a brief chat, the driver picks the candidates and the rest retreat to the roadside and wait for another opportunity.

If millennials find jobs on the Internet via portals like JobStreet. com, for the foreign workers, this is their “JobStreet”…literally.

Work offers are normally manual labours such as house renovations, repairs, cleaning and farm jobs with a going rate of RM70 to RM130.

When the work is complete, the employer for the day sends the workers back to the corner where they were picked up.

“Previously, we could get jobs four days a week. Sometimes, we even get two jobs back-to-back in a day. These days, it is a lot more difficult,” Mohd Sukri Dahlan, an Indonesian labourer told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) last week.

TMR last week observed a day in the life of foreign labourers at one of many established catch-out corners in Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur.

There are many of these corners around the cities and the case in Malaysia is not unique as these job corners exist across the world.

In other countries, this mechanism largely applies for the homeless to find jobs.

Employers, such as lower-tier contractors, prefer to hire day labourers for short-term projects because it is quick and saves costs.

Mohd Sukri, 56, said these foreign labourers would wait until about 11am to get hired, otherwise, they will return home with empty hands.

He said the pay they receive on a day is enough to get by although some of them would decline jobs that offer only RM70 or RM80.

“We, the migrants only think of three things. Firstly, house rent; secondly, the meal and only after having those, we then consider the third and additional needs which are snacks,” he said.

The father of three has been earning a daily wage since he came from Medan to Malaysia in the 1970s.

“We come here every morning and that is our effort. If there are jobs, then there will be. If not, then it is not,” he said.

Rohingya refugee Mohammed Hashim Abdul Fattah said he had no choice but to earn a living through the catch-out corner.

“I have been living like this for 14 years. Contractors for big-scaled projects would require proper documentation as required by the Construction Industry Development Board, for instance. I do not want any trouble and thus work this way,” the 61-year-old told TMR.

Pre-Covid-19, Mohammed Hashim said he normally gets hired every day from the corner, but since the country’s economy reopened, he has been down on his luck with only two to three jobs a week.

Despite hardships, Mohammed Hashim said he likes living in Malaysia and does not know where else to go if the country rejects “people like him”.

“I am happy in Malaysia. I am able to pay rent, work peacefully and have my wife and kids do a little bit of shopping,” he said.

The day TMR waited at the catch-out corner, only one car had stopped by between 9am and 11.30am.

Neither Mohd Sukri, Mohammed Hashim nor other foreign labourers sitting on the sidewalks acquired any jobs at the time.

“If there is no job, I would just go home and sleep,” Mohammed Hashim said in the wait.