Last Updated on Thursday, 7 October, 2021 at 9:34 am by Andre Camilleri
When people know you work in a newsroom, one of the greatest privileges is people instantly come to you with stories or reactions, especially in the wake of big news. After that, things start to unravel, and the best stories even write themselves. It was indeed one of those weeks in the aftermath of what occurred last week to Jaiteh Lamin. Wherever I went, whatever I did, everybody had an opinion on this harrowing story, and rightly so.
Some of the more shocking stories that found their way to me were of fellow migrant construction workers. One man pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to show me the most horrendous scar. “He wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last”, he added. What happened? Dare I ask, “A saw malfunctioned, severing my hand. I tied a rope around my arm to stop the bleeding, then I got the bus to the hospital”. It was shocking. Why not call an ambulance? I continued, “Everyone knows they cost a fortune” he laughed. Did your employer not help? “He told me to go and not to the police”. And this wasn’t the only story. More and more evolved out of the woodwork as the week progressed. Stories of falls in lift shafts, perilous live wires, near-death experiences, and a general lack of safety across and well being were aplenty across the board.
Another worker told me how he was doing gypsum in a room at one site, completely unaware the site had been shut down after a fellow worker had fallen. “I appeared hours later, and they said what are you doing here? Are you crazy?. There were a few of us still working, totally oblivious. Nobody had checked everywhere or thought to tell us all to go”. So inspections are happening. That’s good news, I added. “Well, they come, they take a few pictures, then leave. They might tell us to put on a high visibility jacket and, being mid-summer, that feels impractical in the heat. They might tell us to wear a hard hat, but there aren’t enough to go around” were just a few responses I was told. “We have to work, what option do we have?” was a common prevailing theme.
Of course, this is one side of a very thorny issue, with many workers and employers who do play ball. But, I understood their sentiments and began to understand the scale of the issue as the week progressed. The majority are working to support families and put themselves at risk – not one wanted to speak up or share their name. The worker found at the roadside, Lamin, is married, he has two children, and he also supports his mother. He lost his own father, and his daily wage for 11 hours of work was €50. He has a refugee status registered in Italy and can move within the EU but not work elsewhere without documentation. In Italy, he had been seeking work for well over 18 months before coming to Malta. While fundraising has been fruitful in this case of Lamin, and we can hope he has a positive future, now over a week later, as the uproar starts to fade, one cannot help but wonder about all of the others.