Lack of staff hampering businesses from meeting demand

PETALING JAYA: Consumer demand? Yes. Workers’ availability? No.

The lack of workers – whether local or foreign – is among the challenges faced by some businesses that are struggling to cope despite having consumer demand as Malaysia transitions to endemicity.

For them, returning to their pre-pandemic level could be a distant dream as long as these challenges are not resolved.

“I used to hire six foreign workers and two locals to help with my farming. But I was left with only two farmhands after the pandemic.

“I tried to rehire the local staff that I had let go but they told me they had found another job in another industry,” said a Cameron Highlands-based farmer, who only wished to be known as Uncle Lee.

Uncle Lee, 55, said there had been demand for leafy greens from his farm.

However, he had no choice but to scale down his operations due to a lack of workers.

Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) treasury-general Koong Lin Loong said generally, all labour-intensive industries are still struggling because they are still waiting for the arrival of foreign workers.

“They have the demand but cannot fulfil it because they have no workers. The cost of doing business has become too high for them due to labour shortage.”

Koong said some of the industries or sectors still coping with labour problems included plantation, construction, renovation, hospitality and service.

“The transactions and sales came back for these sectors but not the profit because of worker problems,” he added.

He called on the unemployed to get back to the work field soon as they should not falter in their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions to safeguard their future.

This, he said, would include gig workers because such work was not long-term.

He said the government should speed up and simplify the process of hiring foreign workers among the industries.

“As an export-reliant nation, Malaysia would lose out to other countries when businesses failed to deliver orders.

“The authorities should also find a proper way to legalise and utilise the group of illegal foreign workers, especially those who are healthy and skilled.

“Our government needs to be innovative and do it in a more structured manner,” he said.

Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia president Abdul Halim Husin said those involved in hardware shops and agriculture are facing setbacks due to the massive floods last year.

These operators had to repair their machines and slash prices as some equipment had rusted, he said.

“Their sales are also a bit slow during the Hari Raya period,” he added.

As for those in agriculture, Abdul Halim said harvest would take time and so would the returns.

The government should empower the agriculture sector and support automation to reduce national imports and dependence on foreign labour, he noted.

He also called on the government to encourage students to take up courses that are needed in the economy and prioritise Technical and Vocational Education and Training.

Malaysian Federation of Hawkers and Petty Traders Association president Datuk Seri Rosli Sulaiman said that small traders were the most hit due to rising raw material prices and supply shortages.

“Some even had to close. They usually buy 10 and 15 chickens, now they can only buy two chickens. How do you do business with only two chickens?” he said, adding that fish, beef and vegetables also recorded a hike in prices.

Rosli said the government should do more to ensure Malaysia is capable of producing basic food.

He cited the example of Thailand which has developed its agriculture sector to be self-sufficient.

“If the price of chicken feed has increased, why can’t we produce our own? We can have the cooperatives venture into chicken farming and wholesaling,” he added.

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