For whom do we build the Malaysian economy?

With an economy totally inundated by foreign workers, it is difficult to change overnight but we Malaysians must start somewhere.

By TK Chua

Malaysians do not work in plantations. Malaysians do not work in construction, in factories and in restaurants.

Malaysians do not work as security guards, as cleaners, sweepers, housekeepers and child carers. Malaysians do not work in hotels, in retail chains and as cashiers.

Malaysians do not work in vegetable farms and in fishing. Malaysians do not work as hawkers; they only manage hawker stores.

Now, Malaysians do not work as cooks too, both in restaurants and in hawker stalls.

So what exactly do Malaysians do? We are restaurant and hawker stall owners, policemen, soldiers, immigration officers, teachers, government servants, executives in banks, and smalltime entrepreneurs.

But don’t be smug; very soon, I think foreigners will take over these jobs too.

We are a nation of foreign workers. So, what else can you expect but protests when Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran announced that by Dec 31 all restaurants must employ locals as cooks?

What else is new? The restaurant owners will give us 1,001 reasons why this cannot be done.

They will not be able to get the right cooks with the right skills; they need time to train the locals; and the cost of doing business will go up.

Never mind that some of these foreign cooks are put on the job just one day after arrival and serve us horrible food with terrible hygiene standards.

Unfettered entry of foreign workers will inevitably dictate the production function and lifestyle of this country.

Like water finding its own level, economic activities and the manner we carry them out will gravitate toward the abundant presence and use of foreign workers.

We have been talking about automation, mechanisation and higher productivity measures for a long time, especially during the previous government. But the result is the same; our dependence on foreign workers has become more acute and multifaceted.

Sometimes I wonder whom the Malaysian economy serves when we are so dependent on both foreign capital and labour to generate output.

Of course, some Malaysians have become very rich because they are employers, importers, regulators and exploiters of foreign workers. But what about ordinary Malaysians who are employment-dependent? How do they compete?

Are we asking Malaysian workers to move their lifestyle and standard of living to the level of foreign workers? It must be, otherwise how do we keep justifying Malaysian workers are lazy, expensive and difficult to train?

Are those accusing Malaysian workers not Malaysians themselves?

With an economy totally inundated by foreign workers, of course it is difficult to change overnight. But seriously, we Malaysians must start somewhere.

It is about time we set an unequivocal timeframe to phase out foreign workers in certain sectors.

If the timeframe is resolute, “water will find its own level” again.

Employers will whine and moan, but there will be more automation, mechanisation, and productivity enhancement measures introduced to ensure their own survival.

Right now, there is no motivation or incentive for employers to do anything. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why Malaysia is caught in the low-wage, low-productivity and low-income conundrum.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.