KUCHING: A tripartite council comprising representatives from the state government, employers and trade unions should be set up to find long-term solutions to the issues of human resource development and dependence on foreign workers, especially in the plantation sector.
Making this call, MTUC Sarawak said it was concerned over plans to bring in 12,000 Bangladeshi workers for plantations in the state.
“While we recognise that the country will need foreign workers as part of the global economy, all of us must be alarmed that we have today six million foreign workers, which is almost half of the country’s workforce.
“The government’s effort to reduce the reliance on foreign workers has not been successful. Land Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing has stated that the government had tried to recruit locals but there were no takers,” its secretary, Andrew Lo, said in a statement.
He said MTUC Sarawak rejected claims that local workers refused to work in plantations because the job was dirty and difficult.
Instead, he said, locals turned down plantation jobs because employers suppressed wages and imposed demeaning terms and conditions of employment, while the stifling of trade unions by the authorities made it difficult for workers to bargain collectively for better wages.
“Plantations offer only daily-paid jobs with no security of tenure of employment. So don’t blame locals for seeking better employment opportunities outside Sarawak,” he said.
Lo claimed that another reason why employers preferred foreign workers was that they were easier to control, as they had no avenue for complaints.
He also said the government should consider whether it was wise to develop labour-intensive plantations at a huge environmental cost which created low-paying jobs for foreign workers.
“Sarawak has a small population and we should focus on human resource development to create high value and creative jobs rather than difficult, dirty, demeaning and dangerous jobs.
“We call for a tripartite council to find holistic and long-term solutions to the problem, which if not addressed will have grave security implications,” he said.