Santiago: M’sia must learn from Brexit

Charles-SantiagoULAANBAATAR: Malaysia can learn some very important lessons from Brexit, especially in preventing the rise of xenophobia, says Charles Santiago of the DAP.

Speaking to FMT on the sidelines of the 11th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, Santiago said Brexit has highlighted just how important it was for governments to ensure the social welfare and social protection of the local workforce in their own countries.

He explained that the decision by Brexit supporters to leave the European Union (EU) was largely based on their fear of losing jobs and anger against the establishment for not protecting the everyday man.

“A large part of the leave voters felt that the benefits of the EU partnership did not benefit them.

“Corporations were moving jobs out of England to China etc to take advantage of lower production costs.”

Within the country, he said, labour markets were being restructured at the expense of locals through contract labour and the entry of a migrant workforce. Essentially, those who voted to leave, were at the receiving end of job losses.

Making matters worse was healthcare benefits being taken over by companies, resulting in those who were jobless struggling to cope with healthcare costs.

The Klang MP said the target of the ensuing xenophobia were the foreigners in Britain, although the root of the problem lay with government policies.

In Malaysia, Santiago said the government must adopt strong social protection policies to prevent Malaysians from becoming marginalised in their own country.

He said in Malaysia, more companies were resorting to taking in foreign labour, citing the lack of locals who wanted the jobs.

“However, it is not that locals do not want these jobs, it is just that they want pay that is commensurate with their work and experience,” said Santiago, who is also the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson.

Additionally, the healthcare of the workforce is also taken care of by companies, leaving those without jobs overwhelmed by healthcare costs.

“In the long run, if these issues are not resolved, we will see a rise in xenophobia and other social issues.”

Santiago said there were a number of things the government could do to address this.

“Firstly, the government must ensure sustainable employment for locals according to International Labour Organisation standards.

“The government must also ensure that businesses give employment priority to locals and, more importantly, ensure they are paid good salaries,” he said, elaborating that in Malaysia, companies raked in huge profits although this hardly translated into good wages for their employees.

Santiago said the government also needed to improve and increase access to public healthcare, as well as continuously re-skill the local workforce for new industries.