Reliance on foreign workers will persist

THE labour shortage issue has resurfaced after Indonesia decided to stop sending their workers to Malaysia due to the discrepancy in the recruitment process here.

According to the report “Resolve shortage of foreign workers, say stakeholders” (The Star, July 18; online at, we need between 400,000 and 500,000 workers for, I presume, the construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

On the other hand, there are about 650,000 Malaysians who are unemployed. So in theory, we have a ratio of 1.30 Malaysians to one of these vacancies.

Interestingly, the average pay in the manufacturing sector was RM3,391 in May 2022. This is double the RM1,500 minimum wage, but Malaysians are still not attracted to such jobs.

Thanks to social media and our education system that seems to favour white-collar jobs, the younger generation subconsciously chooses to shun away from blue-collar jobs even if it means being unemployed for months on end.

The gig economy (such as Grab driving) also provides a viable and, to a certain extent, stronger alternative to blue-collar jobs. Some gig workers can earn up to five-digit figures monthly if they are hardworking enough.

Moreover, gig workers can switch between platforms and plan their jobs or tasks based on their location. This would be impossible for those working for a specific company or factory, and they may not be able to earn higher incomes as entry-level workers despite working extra hours.

Last but not least, the working hours for construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors are usually not flexible. For example, a harvester in an oil palm plantation typically starts work at 6.30am whereas a gig worker does not need to religiously follow a working schedule.

There is still much work to be done before we can confidently reduce our reliance on foreign labour.


Shah Alam

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