Mixed reactions to freeze on foreign worker intake

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020

PETALING JAYA: The current freeze on new foreign workers until December received mixed response from industry players.

While manufacturers said the move would create “labour challenges” especially for those who need to replace returning workers, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) supported the decision, saying it would give the opportunity to locals who were laid off to find employment.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said the freeze would affect manufacturers, who were expanding their production to meet the increase in orders, such as those involved in personal protective equipment.“We urge the government to keep the freeze in recruitment as an option. Should the global situation improve with demand for greater output and an increased role for Malaysian manufacturers in the global chain, their labour requirements must be met quickly by allowing direct recruitment,” he said.With the local unemployment rate reaching 5% with about 750,000 workers being displaced, Soh said manufacturers were encouraged to fill vacancies with locals, especially for skilled labour and middle and upper management level positions.

“Foreign workers are usually hired for general operator-level jobs due to the scope of work, industry and job expectations.

“Despite offering higher wages, employers continue to face high turnover and absenteeism among locals,” he added.

As the government was now allowing the redeployment of retrenched foreign workers to be absorbed by companies needing additional workers, he said the process would be efficient and allow for a smooth transfer.

On Monday, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said there would be no new intake of foreign workers in all sectors until the year-end as locals would be given priority to fill vacancies.

Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association secretary Lim Ban Aik said the freeze was not helping as the plantation sector was already facing a labour shortage nationwide.

“The impact in the plantation sector is going to be drastic,” he said, adding that they were unable to attract locals as Malaysians were not interested in plantation work.

“There seems to be a reluctance, which is unfathomable as the industry offers good pay and perks,” he said.

He said the low wage perception was “a thing of the past” as there was a union that protects the workers, adding that they were now working towards raising the standard of living by adopting a living wage.

“We want Malaysians to work for us but they prefer other industries,” he said.

Lim said the shortfall of foreign workers, who had returned to their countries before and just after the movement control order (MCO), needed to be replaced.

“I appreciate the government’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 but to simply issue a blanket ban to halt the hiring of foreign workers would not solve the problem for the plantation sector.

“The government should be fully aware that Malaysians are not interested in taking up the jobs vacated by foreign workers.

“This would make the industry uneconomical. The government should not take the easy way out but work with the industry players to find a win-win solution,” he said.

He noted that the foreign worker shortage would be compounded as locals, currently in the plantation sector, might opt to work in secondary or tertiary manufacturing industries as the working conditions were more palatable.

MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said almost 30,000 locals lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCO.“The move is reasonable and should be implemented as many locals will likely lose their jobs or have lost their jobs already.

“This will help preserve jobs and give priority to local workers,” said Shamsuddin.

He, however, said the government should give employers the flexibility to hire foreign workers, who were already in the country.

“There are some sectors who are doing well and facing a shortage of workers, so the government should allow them to hire existing foreign workers, who are no longer needed by their current employers,” he said.

He acknowledged that there were instances where locals were hesitant to take on 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs, and that there needed to be both an attitude change with locals and rebranding of the jobs.

Shamsuddin said the society needed to stop looking down on those who took up 3D jobs.

“Maybe jobs can also be rebranded, so instead of calling a person a cleaner, maybe he or she can be called an environment assistant,” he said.

Association of Employment Agencies Malaysia president Datuk Foo Yong Hooi said that although they supported the decision to freeze the intake, he urged the government to allow the intake of domestic workers.

“This is because families have gone back to work and working parents may face difficulties.

“We also support the Health Ministry’s guidelines on domestic workers that prior to their entry, they must take swab tests locally and in their home countries.

“The ministry can also impose a quarantine order before they start work,” he said.

Foo also said those who already obtained a visa before the MCO and had the necessary approvals from the Home Ministry should be allowed to come in.

“Those who have paid the levy and already got their visa reference should be allowed into the country,” he said.

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