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Crackdown on foreign workers, what does it mean?

July 16, 2017

Malaysia is now a country where foreign workers have come to replace, not to complement, Malaysian workers.


foreign-workers-bangla-malaysia-1By TK Chua

There have been many crackdowns of undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia before the present one.

Previously, most “operations” against illegal foreign workers would fizzle out after a while. This time I am not too sure how it will eventually pan out. But one thing I am quite sure; the problems of undocumented foreign workers in the country have become more complex and protracted.

Sometimes I wonder if there are “Malaysian workers” left in our country? I could think of Malaysian civil servants, policemen, immigration officers, soldiers, property owners, enterprise owners, plantation owners and smallholders. But seriously, I can’t think of Malaysian workers in any major sector anymore, whether in manufacturing, services or agriculture.

Malaysia is now a country where foreign workers have come to replace, not to complement, Malaysian workers. I think our dependence on them is total and complete. All Malaysians, from big time enterprise owners, small and big contractors to small time hawkers, leverage on foreign workers.

It is a very perplexing observation indeed. We created an economy the size of which is very much bigger than our own potential. We have bigger GDP, exports, construction, manufacturing, agriculture and services, but most Malaysians have remained hard-pressed to get by. Is Malaysia now an economy of foreigners, by foreigners and for foreigners?

Foreign workers are now dictating the “production function” of this country, that is, our economy is gravitating towards a labour intensive, low wage and low productivity conundrum. There is no incentive to change from the existing status quo as long as foreign workers are available in abundance. Malaysian workers will be permanently replaced for being “lazy, expensive and difficult” come what may.

I do not know the ultimate objective of the present crackdown on foreign workers. If it is to make them “legal” from their existing “illegal” status, I guess it would not make much of a difference to our economy. Everything would remain as it is except foreign workers are now documented.

I thought the purpose of controlling and regulating foreign workers was to ensure that they do not come in to dictate our “production function” and to replace us completely. Foreign workers should provide only temporary relief while we continue upgrading our production processes based on our manpower availability and education attainment. Otherwise, how do we move up the value chain to attain a higher income economy?

No doubt foreign workers have made some people very rich, but do they make Malaysians in general and the Malaysian economy better? I think we need to think harder and deeper on this. It is not as obvious as it seems.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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