Let us hire foreign workers too, spa and wellness industry players urge govt

Dorothea Justin

KOTA KINABALU: Wellness and spa industry players are appealing to the government to let them hire foreign workers so their businesses can recover following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysian Association of Wellness and Spa (MAWSpa) president Dorothea Justin said with all business and social sectors already allowed to operate, there was no reason to restrict certain industries from employing foreign workers.

“Why are successive governments blind to the fact that all sectors are experiencing a manpower shortage and need foreign workers to fill vacancies?” she said in an interview on Wednesday (Jan 25).

Justin, the World Spa Organisation ambassador for Malaysia, said allowing only certain sectors to engage foreign workers was discriminatory and could cause them to jump from permitted ones to those that had been left out.

ALSO READ: Is Malaysia poised to become a wellness destination?

This would make them illegal workers and might even lead some recruitment agents to encourage jumping so they can charge desperate employers additional fees.

“The wellness and spa industry is appealing to the government to allow all sectors of services, not just restaurants, to engage foreign workers," she added.

She also stressed that the industry complemented certain medical services in addition to the normal perception of spas and wellness centres as places to relax and rejuvenate.

This included bedridden individuals or those who require touch therapy to improve their quality of life, she noted.

Justin said spa operators were among the first to close when the pandemic hit and among the last allowed to reopen.

This caused them to suffer greatly not only in terms of finances but also emotionally and psychologically, she added.

ALSO READ: 'First to close, last to reopen' spas in Malaysia struggling amid another MCO

And to compound things, she said, they are left out of the sectors allowed to rehire foreign workers.

“Our needs to survive have continuously been neglected and put aside. We also have employees and families to look after, bills to pay and debts to settle,” she said.

Justin pointed out that many locals do not stay long in the profession and sometimes opt out because of family obligations or disapproval.

“Yes, there are still strong negative perceptions of the wellness and spa industries and restrictions, as well as religious and social sensitivities,” she said, urging the government to consider their plight.

Recently, Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar said the government will study the need to expand approval for hiring foreign workers to other sectors three months after the Foreign Workers Employment Relaxation Plan is implemented.

ALSO READ: Lack of foreign labour will derail economy

He said the plan currently covered five critical sectors with high needs: the manufacturing, construction, plantation, agriculture, and services (restaurants only) sectors and sub-sectors.

He added that the government would consider expanding this to other sectors once the shortage in critical areas had been resolved.

An estimated 500,000 foreign workers will be brought into the country in stages via the relaxation plan to address the shortage of manpower in the above sectors.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said recently that employers could hire foreign workers from 15 source countries without having to meet quota requirements and employment eligibility prerequisites.

Saifuddin also said he would be leading a delegation comprising representatives from his ministry, the Human Resources Ministry and regulatory agencies to the selected source countries to discuss worker safety and welfare in Malaysia.

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