Downturn worsens sorry state of affairs


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  • Friday, 12 Feb 2016

NO sooner had I welcomed the increase in the levy for foreign workers last week than the Government, under pressure from employers and employment agents, did an about-turn and deferred the increase.

Quite frankly, I am no longer surprised by the flip-flop.

The increase can only be good for the long-term interest of industries and the country. It will compel industries to automate and modernise their operations instead on forever relying on foreign workers. They should have done this a long time ago.

Employers and businesses complained that the timing of the increase was not quite right because of the current economic slowdown.

I am not entirely convinced. On Labour Day in 2009, the Prime Minister announced that the Government was serious in reducing foreign workers. Within the same week, the Cabinet deferred a decision to increase the levy, which was designed to reduce foreign workers.

I would think that in an economic slowdown, companies should be downsizing and reducing their foreign workers, so any increase would have less impact. Yet at the same time, we have the mind-boggling news that we have agreed with Bangladesh to bring in another 1.5 million workers. That is more than 10% of the workforce.

Then there are an estimated two to four million illegal foreign workers in the country despite so many amnesty programmes and raids by the police and Immigration Department.

The 6P legalisation programme launched in August 2011 revealed that a total of 2,088,358 foreign workers had been registered, of whom 1,135,499 were illegals. We have more illegal than legal foreign workers! It means that out of a workforce of 11 million, foreign workers accounted for one out of every five jobs.

So if there is a real economic downturn, why do we still need so many jobs?

Employers complain that Malaysians are unwilling to do the dirty, difficult and dangerous (3D) jobs. Really? The real question is why are there so many such jobs?

How is it that one in every five jobs is a 3D job, four years before we become a developed nation? Really?

One can just visit any shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur and major towns to realise that most of the retail assistants and sales associates are foreigners. These are not 3D jobs.

You can see them everywhere now, including Plaza Low Yat, a popular IT mall right in the shopping district of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.

Employers always harp on that Malaysian workers have a bad attitude, are lazy and choosy, demand high salaries, don’t show up for work, take sick leave and so on. So they prefer to employ foreign workers.

Well, Australian employers harp on exactly the same about Australian workers and prefer foreign workers, especially from Malaysia! Singapore employers have the same complaint and there are more than half a million “lazy, choosy with bad attitude” Malaysian workers there!

How did we get to this sorry state of affairs? Is it because licences for labour contractors and employment agents have been issued with impunity? Is the Immigration Department not carrying out its responsibility of protecting our entry points? Something is not right. We can’t just blame the low-ranking officers at the entry points.

Agents charge up to RM11,000 plus the first six months’ salary for maids. The poor maid gets only RM800, which comes to RM14,400 over 18 months, while the agents pocket RM15,800. It is the worst form of exploitation.

One of the factors that contributes to the rise of illegal immigrants is the “outsourcing licence” launched by the Home Ministry to allow only selected parties to import foreign workers. These so-called labour suppliers are granted a pre-approved quota for the number of workers to be imported to Malaysia.

This outsourcing to selected people meant that they began to charge exorbitant prices for each quota they leased out. Most small-time business owners, unable to afford the costly overheads, decided they would rather engage in the employment of illegal workers. Local outsourcing companies would deploy workers by the thousands at a time, becoming millionaires overnight.

Of course many interested parties will dispute the above. So let’s grab the bull by the horns and set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry so that we can stop this multi-million-dollar racket. Malaysian workers whose wages are depressed because of the foreign workers deserve to know the truth.


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