Govt urged to lift ban on foreign workers

PETALING JAYA: The freeze on the intake of foreign workers should also be lifted for other sectors of the economy, industry players say.

The appeal comes after two recent surveys revealed an acute shortage of foreign workers in several sectors which could hamper the nation’s economic recovery.

“It is feared that if the urgent manpower needs are not addressed quickly, it may derail the recovery of our industries, including their ability to meet their orders in hand and expansion plans.

“The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) urges the government to act on the plight of manufacturers by lifting the freeze on foreign workers to fill gaps in the unskilled general worker category as a short-term measure to assist industries with their revival,” said FMM president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai when contacted yesterday.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the entry of foreign workers had been approved to meet workforce demand by the plantation sector.

Soh said a survey of 252 manufacturing companies by FMM shows a shortage of about 22,000 skilled and unskilled workers.

He said the survey covers only 252 companies out of some 21,000 that are direct and indirect members of FMM.

“Considering that the survey only captured the responses of 252 companies, the worker shortage would be more than 22,000,” he added.

He said the electrical and electronics, food and beverages, chemicals and chemical products, fabricated metal and rubber products sectors are among those badly affected by the shortage of foreign workers.

Besides the FMM survey, Soh noted that a separate survey by National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Malaysia (NCCIM) on 835 companies reveals a shortage of 77,721 workers in the manufacturing sector.

The survey by NCCIM, he said, reveals that plantations require 70,000 foreign workers, rubber glove industry (25,000), furniture (30,000), construction (200,000), manufacturing (25,000), services (45,000) and plastics (6,293).

“More than often, industries have no choice but to rely on foreign workers as locals are not keen on certain jobs, especially in the 3D (dangerous, dirty, difficult) sectors,” he added.

Soh said the shortage of foreign workers would also impact the global supply chain as Malaysia is a key manufacturing and supply chain hub in the region.

“As it is, many of our industries had their contracts in the second half of 2021 reviewed during the lockdown period due to their inability to fulfil their order obligations, which severely impacted global supply chains,” he said.

Meanwhile, the freeze on foreign workers intake has also led to “pinching” of workers among sectors hard-pressed for manpower.

Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association president Wong Teu Hoon said there have been instances of foreign workers being pinched among employers of different sectors.

“Currently, other industries are pinching our remaining workers as they also lack manpower,” he said.

Wong, who is also president of Gabungan Persatuan-Persatuan Restoran dan Kedai Teh Koo Soo Pan Malaysia, added that the situation is likely to worsen.

“The lack of manpower would result in present workers being pressured with increased workload.“This situation might cause them to leave their jobs even if we increase their salaries,” he said, adding that both associations have a combined total of about 35,000 members.

Wong suggested that the government allows a quota to hire foreign workers for their sector.

“I hope the government will understand that some jobs do not appeal to locals,” he added.

Malaysian Indian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan echoed similar cases of foreign workers being lured away from restaurants, which are already facing a shortage of workers.

“Some restaurant owners and some agents have resorted to job pinching or job poaching.

“They seduce workers from other restaurants with higher salaries,” he said.

He added that recent attempts to hire locals during a joint recruitment drive with the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to fill in the vacancies proved futile.

He said only 400 candidates were called in for interviews in Negri Sembilan.

“We waited from 9am to 3pm, but not even a single person turned up.

“It was a disaster even though we offered RM1,500 as initial salary compared with the government’s RM1,200,” he said.

Undaunted by the lack of response, he said similar recruitment drives will be held in Kuala Lumpur and Penang soon.

Jawahar Ali stressed that the restaurant sector is not a standalone industry as other sectors are also dependent on eateries.

“For example, those supplying fresh produce, gas, ice, coffee, tea, tableware and many others are dependent on restaurants for business.If restaurants close down, the whole chain will be affected,” he said.

Presma has about 4,500 members operating some 12,500 restaurants nationwide.

In Johor Baru, Deputy Finance Minister I Mohd Shahar Abdullah said the government is expected to address the foreign worker shortage faced by various sectors when it tables Budget 2022 this Friday.

He acknowledged that many sectors had voiced their concerns over lack of workers to the ministry.

“Budget 2022 is a short-term step taken by the government as a continuation of Budget 2021, and the eight stimulus economic packages that have been announced before.

“We know that those in tourism, hotels and small and medium enterprises are facing difficulties in getting workers,” he said after visiting an e-sports academy here yesterday.He added that the government is hopeful that the measure to be announced would help stabilise unemployment in Malaysia.

“The government, through Budget 2022, will give focus on the 3R strategies, which is recovery, resilience and reform, as we move to the post Covid-19 era,” he added.

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