EACH Ramadan marks a month of “bumper harvest” for odd-job worker Megat, 23, and his 24-year-old neighbour Osman, who works as an administrative clerk in the capital city. It's the time when they could earn extra money from running makeshift food stalls at a Ramadan bazaar in a housing area in Petaling Jaya. And such has been the duo's routine for the past four years.
But after each Ramadan and the subsequent Aidilfitri celebrations, uncertainty looms, especially for Megat, who has no permanent income.
Osman has a stable day job, although he has been getting increasingly bored with his work and has been thinking of a change over the past few months.
“I'm not so worried about my condition, actually, as I will find something to do that can at least give me a reasonable upah (wage) to get by It's challenging but I'm quite used to living like this,” Megat tells StarBizWeek.
When asked whether he would consider entering full-time employment like Osman, Megat says, “Depends, maybe. You see, I don't have a stable income working on my own, bad days mean zero income and now, everything is getting more expensive, and some people are telling me the economy may not be so good.”
“So, maybe the situation may force me to get a stable job after all but my problem is, I may not have the necessary experience,” he adds.
Despite the self-doubt, Megat might just find a good opportunity for a stable job coming. And Osman, too, might just find doors opening for something new that might interest him.
Over the week, the Government announced that it had more than one million jobs available for Malaysians at eight ministries. These include the International Trade and Industry Ministry, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, Domestic Trade Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry, Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry, Home Ministry, Tourism Ministry, and Transport Ministry, and the Construction Industry Development Board.
So, Malaysians like Megat and Osman can choose any of those jobs that will be available in five main sectors, namely, manufacturing, plantation, agriculture, construction and production.
But will Megat and Osman, both of whom said that they are not highly educated and do not possess much technical skill, take advantage of the opportunity made available by the Government?
“Kita kena tengok dululah, kak (We have to wait and see first),” Megat says.
“We don't have the details yet, so we wouldn't know if those jobs would be suitable for us,” he explains.
Osman concurs, adding that he would be enticed to take up the offer made by the Government if the job meets his needs and expectations.
“Needless to say, salaries and staff benefits are important factors. Other than that, the general environment, such as who are the people I'll be working with, is also important at the end of the day, I also want people to respect me, and not look down on me,” he says.
For Alvin, a 17-year-old school leaver currently working temporarily as a shopkeeper, the job he takes has to be able to boost his self-esteem.
“I don't know what jobs the Government has to offer yet; maybe they do have something that suits me but what's important to me, at this stage in life, is the job has to be inspiring I'm still young, I don't mind working hard,” he says.
The unemployment rate in Malaysia is still relatively low at 3.2% in June though this figure is up slightly from the 3% in May. Data released by the Department of Statistics over the week showed that based on June's unemployment rate, the number of unemployed Malaysians stood at about 400,000 while it was 380,300 in May.
As it announced the number of vacancies available at some of its ministries, the Government had in fact urged Malaysians, especially the unemployed, to take up its job offering; otherwise it would take illegal immigrants granted amnesty under the Government's legislation programme to fill up the vacancies.
This would then contradict with the Government's desire to reduce the country's dependency on foreign workers, which it had been trying to do for long, but to not much effect, as their numbers has kept growing over the years.
The Economic Report 2010/2011 revealed that the number of legal foreign workers in Malaysia was 1.8 million, 38.2% of whom were employed in the manufacturing sector, 16% in construction and 14.2% in the plantation sector. In 1999, the number of legal foreign workers in the country was less than 500,000.
At present, a total of 2.21 million migrant workers are registered under the ongoing 6P programme. Of the total registered, 1.21 million are illegal immigrants.
Their huge presence is a cause for concern socially and economically. However, in most cases, industries claim that they can't do without foreign workers because most local people are just not willing to work for them or take up any blue-collar jobs.
Will the Government's offer meet with the same fate of being shunned by the locals?
Time will tell, but according to Malaysian Trades Union Congress vice-president Mohd Roszali Majid, in order to attract the locals, the overall package, including salary and other benefits such as that for housing, medical and transport, has to be improved.
Given the rising cost of living, wages offered to the locals have to be decent, more than just bare subsistence.
However, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Mustafa Mansur says demands for higher wages would have to justified and would depend on the level of skills of the worker. He emphasises, that unless the locals take up the jobs being offered, the problem of having too many foreign workers in Malaysia will continue.
The message is clear: reducing dependence on foreign workers works both ways. It's not just the Government's responsibility. Sometimes, the choice also lies with the people.