PETALING JAYA: Restaurants, barbershops, goldsmiths and scrap metal dealers have been struggling with insufficient labour since March when a hiring freeze was put in place.
Yet, hundreds of South Asians who have arrived in Malaysia after promises of employment are stranded without jobs.
The Indian business community has been abuzz with reports that up to 10,000 enterprises in these four sectors are at risk of closing down if they do not get the workers they need soon.
This community accounts for a large proportion of businesses in these sectors.
Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas) president J Suresh said even those applications for foreign workers submitted before the freeze was put in place on March 15 have yet to be processed.
An employer will first have to pay a levy of about RM2,000 (it varies according to sector) for every migrant worker he intends to employ.
Only after the levy has been paid will he be allowed to get a worker through a recruitment agency. The process takes a month.
There are caveats, too. Only professionals are allowed to come and work in Malaysia, not general or unskilled workers. This condition applies specifically to migrant workers from India.
As far as Suresh is concerned, the “professionals” referred to are those who can cook Indian food.
“They are the ones with the expertise. This is why workers from India are necessary. They cannot be substituted by other foreign nationals,” he told FMT Business.
Another skill that is also rarely available in Malaysia is the crafting of the thali, or wedding chain, making it essential to seek them out in India.
But getting Malaysians of Indian origin is also not an option because they demand higher salaries, Suresh said.
He said the bigger restaurants, which have larger hiring budgets, usually get most of the available workers, leaving the smaller players to pick up the crumbs.
There are also workers who opt to quit their jobs early. “They have not only wasted a spot in the queue but also the levy paid by the restaurant owner. This has been very frustrating,” he said.
Suresh said some restaurant owners have become so desperate for workers that they have even tried to hire prisoners.
Under a government programme to help soon-to-be-released prisoners acclimatise themselves with life outside the jail cell, private companies are allowed to hire them.
Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MAICCI) president N Gobalakrishnan said renewing contracts of existing workers could also become a problem.
For now, renewals are allowed for workers whose permits ended in April and May as well as those that are ending in June. Beyond that, there is still no word on whether or not the government will continue to approve applications for renewal.
Work permits are renewed annually for up to 10 years. However, applications for renewal will only be accepted for processing a month before the contract expires.
That leaves workers whose permits expire outside this three-month period in a bind.
Business owners in the Indian community are anxiously waiting for an answer. In the meantime, they make do with the few workers they still have on their payroll, or wind up.