Ban on foreign hires will cripple laundry industry, govt told

Immigration officers check the documents of foreign workers during an operation at a laundry factory in Bayan Lepas in 2014. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Several laundry operators have urged the government to reconsider its decision to ban the hiring of foreign workers for the laundry and textile sub-sectors.

Zarina Ismail, who owns the Drop and Wash chain of laundry shops and claims to speak for the Malay Unified Laundry Association and Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Laundry Association, said the ban would cripple the business.

Zarina, a lawyer, is advising the two associations, which are trying to work with the government to resolve the issue.

She said the moratorium on foreign workers, which stretches from this year until 2021, did not correspond with the reality of a “multibillion-ringgit industry”.

“The government is a little out of touch with the industry,” she told FMT. “It has told us that everybody can do laundry, which is not the case.

“We service hotels, airlines, the government and the retail business, all of which have different textile needs. It’s not just wash, dry, and fold.”

She said there was a high demand for workers but a shortage of supply among locals.

“It’s the same with mamak stalls. Locals don’t want to work these jobs. We have the best equipment, but they leave after a while.

“Our customers have hundreds of workers and thus require tonnes of laundry to be cleaned. I myself run a business with shops that clean a thousand shirts a day.”

She said locals were unwilling to go through the long hours of training necessary for employment in professional textile care even though most of the businesses had comfortable workplaces and paid wages above the market rate.

“We pay a minimum wage of RM1,500 for an SPM holder,” she said.

“Even though we work with Socso and civil society groups to source local workers, even from the disabled community, it is not enough.

“The foreigners stay longer, and they are not cheap either. If you want good workers, you cannot pay peanuts.”

Zarina said the government should allow laundry operators to resolve employment issues on a case-by-case basis.

“We need foreign workers at the end of the day,” she added.

On Aug 8, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the proposal to discontinue foreign hires was put forward by the domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry.

He said this was to prioritise local employment and focus on other sectors more stimulating to the economy.

“We are a multibillion-ringgit industry,” said Zarina. “The government must allow us to hire foreign workers so that we too can stimulate the economy.”