Pay more to keep local workers here, says MP

An MP and a unionist have raised questions about a visa programme for Malaysians to work in Japan.

PETALING JAYA: An MP and a unionist have questioned the need to send Malaysian blue-collar workers to Japan, urging the government to look into raising wages in Malaysia first.

Klang MP Charles Santiago and Malaysian Trades Union Congress secretary-general J Solomon said plans for a blue-collar visa programme with Japan raised the question of whether Malaysians are being paid enough in their home country.

They said Malaysians had shown that they are not against working in so-called 3D (dangerous, dirty and difficult) jobs, as they have gone to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand for such work, at times even illegally.

The government is reportedly seeking an agreement with Japan under which Malaysian blue-collar workers will be sent to work in specified sectors there under a visa programme launched last month.

Santiago said the message being sent to workers was that Malaysia would focus on bringing in migrant labour while Malaysians who want higher wages should seek work overseas.

Instead, he said, the goal should be to reduce reliance on foreign workers and keep Malaysians in the country, working for better wages.

“What is the logic of us sending workers there when we need them here? The government needs to explain this,” he added.

He also noted that Japanese language skills are a requirement under the new visa programme, questioning the likelihood of many being able to meet the requirements.

Japan is said to be allowing in more foreign workers because of the country’s rapidly ageing population and low birth rate.

Solomon said higher wages would draw Malaysians to work in Japan, just as they did in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

“It is simply an indication that employers here are not paying a fair wage for the difficult work that many workers perform.”

He also called for more information on the plan to send Malaysians to Japan, saying this is needed to evaluate the benefits and risks of the programme.

“Policymakers in the government must be aware (of the situation there) before sending Malaysians to work in 3D-type jobs in Japan,” he said.

He noted recent concerns over the reportedly harsh working conditions for foreign trainees in Japan, claims of foreigners being paid less than the minimum wage, the risk of accidents during training, and cases of suicide.

He also said a Japanese programme for migrant workers had met international criticism, with opponents claiming its main purpose is to address the shortage of labour in low-skilled sectors and voicing concern over the possibility of exploitation and the abuse of human rights.

He urged the government to ensure that those going to Japan are given sufficient pre-departure training in labour laws, culture, cost of living and other matters concerning life in Japan.