PETALING JAYA: Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran seems to be backtracking on his order to restaurants to only hire local cooks by Jan 1.
His announcement yesterday had met with widespread protests, dismay and anger from restaurant owners, some of whom threatened to pass the extra cost of hiring locals to customers.
They also said a minimum of three years was needed to train local cooks to take over from foreigners. Many locals also did not want to work in restaurants.
He told Star Online today it was “just a suggestion”.
He said his ministry will be “reasonable” in getting food operators to hire local cooks.
“We will engage with the various stakeholders before the final process,” he said, in apparent reference to complaints that his ministry had not consulted those in the industry before announcing the drastic change in policy.
Kulasegaran also clarified that the local cooks requirement is only for “ordinary local food” outlets.
The requirement does not apply to foreign food restaurants, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels, which require specialised cooks.
Kulasegaran said the Licensing of Hawkers (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) By-Laws 2016 already required that all hawkers must be Malaysians.
“We just want it to be properly regulated and have the same laws applied to all states,” he said.
He said the number of foreign workers needed to be reduced.
Last year, there were 1.8 million foreign workers, with 250,000 working in the service sector, including in restaurants, an increase of 80,000 workers between 2010 and 2017.
In March, Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali had stated that immigration rules stipulate that foreigners can only work as cooks. Restaurants and coffee shops are not allowed to hire foreigners as front-liners, he said.
Following that, two food and beverage associations representing over 21,000 members called on Putrajaya to relax the immigration regulations as it was difficult to obtain locals to do the job.
Meanwhile, the news portal said a recent finding by a team of researchers from Universiti Malaya, led by Assoc Prof Dr Siti Nursheena Mohd Zain, found a high prevalence of food poisoning bacteria on the hands of foreign workers working in the food service industry.
Hand swabs were taken from 383 legal migrant workers handling food in three cities – Ipoh, Kuala Terengganu and Shah Alam. Almost all indicated a potential health hazard.
Siti Nursheena said these findings indicate high probability of transmission of pathogenic bacteria from the food handlers’ hands to customers during meal preparation and serving.
She called for improvements in personal hygiene and sanitation standards by health authorities.