PETALING JAYA: If the rights of foreign workers are taken care of, fewer Malaysians will be stuck at the lowest rung of the income ladder, according to Sungai Siput MP Michael Jeyakumar of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).
Speaking to FMT, he said those in the bottom 40% household income group (B40) would find it easier to get jobs and to hold on to them if they were competing with foreign workers whose rights were honoured.
He said employers currently preferred foreign workers because they could be bullied into working longer hours without adequate compensation.
“Foreign workers can be forced to work longer hours and for less pay, whereas if you hire locals and you make them work longer hours you have to pay them overtime. Also, employers tend to shy away from hiring locals because they are more vocal about their rights.”
While acknowledging that employers had to pay a levy for hiring foreign workers, he alleged that most of them would recoup the expenditure by cutting from the workers’ wages. “And if a foreign worker complains, for instance, about having to work long hours or receiving less pay, then the employer could easily send him back to his agent.”
He said employers were well aware of the availability of foreign workers in the country, including the approximately four million undocumented foreigners.
“These four million are not a reserved workforce,” he said. “Most of them are working, and if the locals aren’t willing to work as hard as them and for less pay, then the bosses know that they can get an unlimited number of foreign workers.
“If the undocumented workers were legitimised and allowed to complain against violations of their rights, there would be a level playing field. The market would then open up to the unemployed locals.”
He said he was not speaking only of the so-called 3D (dangerous, dirty and difficult) jobs. He pointed out that many migrant workers could be seen working in hotels and convenience stores.
Jeyakumar claimed that greed was the reason why there were so many undocumented migrant workers in the country. “There’s a lot of money that could be made by the middlemen, including those involved in the process of legitimising these migrant workers as well as agents who bring them into the country,” he said.
“The actual cost of bringing in a migrant worker from Nepal, including his air fare, medical check-up and passport, is probably less than a thousand ringgit. Yet these agents are charging RM14,000 to bring him in. And once the agent has the money, he doesn’t care whether the worker gets a job or not.
“Then you have the government outsourcing the process of legitimising these undocumented workers to private contractors, many of whom are Tan Sris and Datuk Seris. The government should take it upon itself to legitimise these workers. It would be a lot cheaper.
“If you need to bring in foreign workers, it should be because there’s work to do, not because it’s a lucrative business. The commercialisation of the whole process is the problem.”
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), however, rejects Jeyakumar’s statement that it is cheaper to employ foreign workers.
“That is a common misconception,” said MEF Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan. “When employers hire foreign workers, they have to pay the transportation costs, accommodation costs, and the costs of medical examinations. This can come up to RM4,000 a year for each worker.
“Employers hire foreign workers because they are more hardworking than the locals and they don’t have to worry about foreign workers asking for sick leave and such.
“These workers also don’t complain as much as locals do. They are prepared to work on rest days and public holidays. In fact, one of the conditions of their contracts is that they are allowed to work a fixed overtime of four hours a day. Or else they don’t want to come here.”