Industry players caught off-guard

PETALING JAYA: The jewellery, textile, laundry and hairdressing businesses have been caught off-guard by the government’s latest move to gradually stop the hiring of foreign workers.

They are seeking a meeting with the Home Ministry to discuss the matter further in view of concerns whether Malaysians are ready to fill up the vacancies.

Federation of Goldsmiths and Jewellers Association of Malaysia’s adviser Datuk Ng Yih Pyng said the ministry should clarify whether the halt in the recruiting of these foreigners would apply to the retail side or all aspects, including the manufacturing of jewellery.

“If it applies to all aspects, it would have quite a significant impact on the industry, ” he said, adding that all the stakeholders should sit down with the ministry to see how the impact could be mitigated.

On Thursday, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government would discontinue the hiring of foreign workers for service sub-sectors comprising laundry, textile, hair dressing and goldsmith businesses in stages for three years from this year until 2021.

Ng, when contacted, said most exporters of jewellery relied heavily on foreign workers.

“The foreign workers are hired from various countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh.

“While not all of them are skilled, the workers are given training by the employers, ” Ng said.

He said the impact of the move would be similar for manufacturers who catered for the local market.

“Without foreign workers, production will be hit and Malaysia, as a major exporter, will be badly affected, ” he said.

He called on the government to consult with the industry stakeholders to come up with a mitigation plan.

“While we strongly agree with the government that we should embark on Industry 4.0 and automation as well as reduce the reliance on foreign workers, such a change must be planned carefully so that the industry can continue to grow and the government can continue to reap the benefits of collecting taxes from various businesses, ” he said.

Industry 4.0 refers to the initiative launched by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in November last year. It focuses mainly on digitally transforming Malaysia’s manufacturing sector and its related services.

Malaysian Textile Manufacturers Association honorary president-cum-adviser Datuk Seri Tan Thian Poh said that employers had always prioritised the recruiting of Malaysians “but there is just not enough locals to go around and most locals are not interested in those jobs”.

“The new policy would force employers in those sectors to pinch legal foreign workers from other sectors and creating more illegal foreign workers, ” he said.

Furthermore, he said Malaysia already had too many illegal foreign workers.

“This new policy will further increase their number significantly, ” he said.

“I believe the only way to solve the problem of foreign workers is to allow all employers in all sectors to employ foreigners legally. So, this new policy is counter-productive.

“We are disappointed that the stakeholders were not consulted prior to the implementation of the policy, ” he said.

Malaysian Hair Salon Owners Association chairman A.K. Selvan said the latest announcement was akin to “killing the Indian salon industry”.

Citing a high dependence on semi-skilled foreign workers from India, Selvan said the estimated 3, 000 Indian salons nationwide would have no choice but to go out of business.

“We understand the government’s intention to prioritise the local workforce, but it has to consider the reality of the industry.

“It’s not that we don’t hire locals, but they don’t stay as workers for long.

“Once they have learnt the skills and saved up some money, they leave to set up their own salons and become our competitors.

“The locals prefer to run their own business, ” he said, adding that it was not costly to set up small businesses like salons and laundrettes.

Calling on the government to reconsider its decision, Selvan, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barber over 30 years ago, suggested that there be a limit on the number of foreign workers for the sub-sectors instead of imposing a total ban.

“I manage two salons now and I have three Indian nationals at each outlet to help me.

“Without them, my business would not be able to continue, ” he said, adding that these Indian nationals had been trained back home to do the work.

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