Businesses want foreign worker hiring freeze lifted

Big roundup: Some 132 illegal immigrants sitting on the ground after being arrested during an Immigration Department operation at a palm oil plantation in Setia Alam in Shah Alam, Selangor. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should consider lifting the freeze on the hiring of foreign workers quota in view of the Migrant Repatriation Programme that starts on March 1, say trade groups.

They, however, were receptive of the repatriation programme, which the Home Ministry previously said was meant to send home undocumented foreigners without them being prosecuted.

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Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said some of these workers had been in the country for years, hence the foreign worker levy had become costlier, making it difficult for employers to foot the bill.

With the amnesty programme, he said these workers could return to their home countries.

“It is a good move by the government to collect compounds from the workers and send them off rather than detain them in immigration camps,” he said.

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The government must also ease the process of hiring new foreign workers, he added.

SME Association of Malaysia president Ding Hong Sing said the repatriation programme was a less expensive way to help these undocumented workers return home.

“But the impact for some employers is that they may face a shortage of workers,” he said, adding that SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in the plantation and manufacturing sectors might be affected.

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Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia president Tan Sri Low Kian Chuan said it was supportive of the repatriation programme, including for those who had committed immigration offences.

“Various programmes have been introduced previously by the government to legalise undocumented foreign workers.

“However, we understand that there is a situation of imbalance in the supply of foreign workers in various economic sectors.

“A certain leniency must be given and a case-by-case application review must be allowed for those critical economic sectors,” added Low.

Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Nivas Ragavan said the hiring of foreign workers must be allowed based on industry needs.

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For example, he said the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System should be opened to all industries so that they can exercise due diligence through the system during the recruitment process.

“As the approval comes from authorities, this would also prevent employers and unscrupulous agents from capitalising on loopholes to bring in foreign workers and then exploit them,” he said.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said they believe the decision of the government to implement the repatriation programme from March 1 is necessary to manage the undocumented foreign worker situation in the country, which is “a national cause of concern.”

“It must be tackled in a comprehensive, effective and transparent manner,” he said.

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The main reason for the influx of illegal foreign workers was the previous policy of allowing outsourcing companies or agents to bring them in as outsourced workers and not as direct workers for industries, he said.

Many workers were brought in via this channel with the promise of employment, only to be left in the lurch without any proper work secured for them, said Soh.

Although the manufacturing sector was mindful of the Cabinet’s decision to maintain the freeze on applications due to there being sufficient workers in critical sectors, Soh said there may be genuine cases of employers in the sector who still required workers to meet their orders.

“The government should consider these applications and approval on a needs basis” he said.

The repatriation programme will allow illegal foreigners to be sent home after they have settled compounds for various immigration offences including overstaying and entering Malaysia without valid documents.

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