PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said employers have had no choice in the past but to employ foreign workers as Malaysians are not keen to work in certain sectors.
Its executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan, said this in reply to the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) slamming him for asking the government to rethink its foreign worker policies as massive job losses loom following the movement control order (MCO).
He suggested that certain jobs, such as those in plantations and plumbing, be certified so that they would carry a higher status and attract more locals.
Shamsuddin said massive job cuts were expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic and employers could only retrench locals after sending back foreign workers, as stated under the Employment Act 1955.
“If we retrench local workers but keep the foreign workers, then we are subjected to the law.
“You need to appreciate the kind of situation (we are in). When we employ foreign workers, it is not by choice,” he told FMT.
He said bosses took in foreign workers as they had to fill the manpower needs in certain sectors since locals are not keen on such jobs.
The MTUC had asked if the call by MEF for the government to be clear on its foreign worker policies could be a ploy by employers to turn their backs on foreign workers already in Malaysia but now rendered redundant due to the pandemic and the resultant lockdown.
In accusing Malaysian employers of living off cheap foreign labour, the umbrella trade union said employers had never seen the need to recruit local workers with reasonable wages or offer Malaysians training in skills which could bring them higher salaries.
But Shamsuddin said it was difficult to retain local manpower in factories.
For instance, he said, companies in Johor Bahru would bring in busloads of workers from the east coast and Sabah and Sarawak to work but “within a month, only 10 will be left as the rest go off to Singapore or they go elsewhere”.
“In that kind of situation, what do you want employers to do?”
2.2 million foreigners send home RM1,000 every month
Shamsuddin said on the average the 2.2 million legal foreign workers send home RM1,000 a month. This is money flowing out of the country, he added.
Due to these factors, he said Putrajaya needed to review the situation regarding the employment of foreign workers.
He also rejected claims by the MTUC that employers were offering squalid accommodation to foreign workers, stating that in the plantation sector the workers had good accommodation.
“Most of them live in semi-detached homes with spacious rooms. Accommodation is free. There is free power and water usage to a certain extent. They can also use plots of land for husbandry activities,” he added.
But he said local workers were not keen to work in the plantation sector. “It is still about social status,” he added.
He urged the government to get plantation workers certified so that the work would be seen as professional work.
“The same with electrical and plumbing jobs. Certification of the position will see a rise in wages,” he said.
“We need to do this progressively. It is not cheap.”
He said this was the right time to make changes so that it would benefit Malaysian workers who would have jobs and higher wages.
“We are not abandoning foreign workers. Now is the time to look at ways to offer jobs to locals and this is where nationalism has to come in.”
He added during the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis, Malaysia had sent back 800,000 foreign workers, and that 40,000 Malaysians lost their jobs.
He also urged the government to carry out strict enforcement as some parties claimed there were over nine million foreign workers in Malaysia and that only 2.2 million of them were registered.
These workers, he said, could have come in legally but then hopped to other lucrative sectors to work without permits, taking away jobs from locals.
“Sometimes, employers are in the process of sending them back but they get jobs elsewhere,” he said, adding that some came in illegally.
He said in the fight against Covid-19, the nation’s focus was on the legal workers but those here illegally were the ones causing problems because they could not be monitored.
Due to that, Shamsuddin said Putrajaya’s “whitening policy” to legalise illegals might need to be reviewed to stop giving the perception that people could come in illegally and get legalised through these programmes.
Yesterday, Shamsuddin had said employers hoped the government would decide quickly on policies for hiring foreign workers as companies were expected to slash jobs after the MCO was lifted.
He had said it could not be business as usual any more with agents bringing in foreign workers to work here while companies retrenched Malaysians.
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