PETALING JAYA: Unskilled foreign labour in our workforce could be driving down productivity levels, said the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.
MTUC secretary-general Abdul Halim Mansor believes that foreign workers, who make up 30% of Malaysia's workforce, were at a disadvantage because they were employed in labour-intensive industries while their counterparts in other benchmark countries were involved in technology-based production.
He said it was unfair to benchmark the Malaysian workforce against high-performance countries which have more skilled foreign workers.
“Malaysian employers generally like to hire unskilled foreign labour because they are cheaper, while the big players are going for highly trained manpower for technology-based production.
“We are only semi-technology-based. So, of course. they have higher productivity,” he added.
Abdul Halim urged employers to develop and motivate their workers to stay competitive.
“If you work them like machines they won't be productive, but if you invest in them by creating a win-win situation, the environment in the workplace will change,” he said.
SME Corp deputy chief executive officer Rohana Ramly said the SME 2012-2020 Masterplan put the productivity of a small and medium enterprise worker in Malaysia at RM50,498 in 2011, which was three times less than his Singaporean counterpart and seven times lower than his American opposite number.
This could be due to the sizeable employment of unskilled workers, particularly in labour-intensive activities, coupled with the lack of focus on upskilling the workforce and the continued engagement in low value-added activities among SMEs, she said.
Citing the masterplan, Rohana said six programmes would be introduced to develop human capital in the workforce and shift resources to higher value-added activities.
“Concurrently, we are undertaking regulatory reforms which should enhance the overall productive capacity and competitiveness of the economy,” she said.
Cuepacs president Datuk Omar Osman disagreed that productivity among workers was low.
“If we were not being productive, the country wouldn't be developing,” said Omar, adding that the quality of Malaysian civil servants was on par with that of advanced countries.
He, however, said that more could be done to boost productivity.
“We are always organising training courses for civil servants to hone their skills,” Omar said.