The influx of foreign workers in the country has been a much talked-about issue throughout the years, as Malaysia has long been a go-to hub for foreign workers especially those from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam, India, the Philippines and Myanmar. Most of these workers from the region are employed for the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) sectors.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem, revealed last November that the estimated number of foreign workers (legal and illegal) to be around 6.7 million – with only 2.1 million workers documented and registered with the Immigration Department. He cited their intake was due to meet the high demand for labour in various 3D sectors, and the attitude of locals for being too choosy when it comes to applying for jobs.
If these estimates are correct, this means the number of foreign workers in Malaysia have exceeded the current total population of Chinese people, 6.64 million people in the country. Despite the Immigration Department currently working to identify illegal workers through a rehiring programme for those without permits (PATI) come 2020, are we able to achieve this target with the current influx of foreign workers in Malaysia?
Another question that begs is, how far from the truth is it that Malaysians are reluctant to work in certain fields, only considering to be hired for easier jobs and one that allows them to work in air-conditioned offices? According to Pertubuhan Rapat Malaysia president A. Rajaretinam, these claims are far from true. He said the most likely reason Malaysians did not want to take up 3D jobs here was due to the low salary package. In fact, based on records, 600,000 Malaysians are currently working in 3D sectors in Singapore.
If Malaysians can work in 3D sectors in our neighbouring country, there is no reason why they cannot do the same here – except that there are certain factors that are stopping them from doing so. The biggest concern is why should they work in Malaysia with a measly salary of RM900 a month while they can earn $1,000 (RM3,015) per month in Singapore doing the same job?
For instance, if Company A offers a position with a salary of RM7,000 and Company B offers RM10,000 for the similar position and job requirement, it is pretty obvious that Company B would be the preferred choice. Another problem that is hindering locals from working such jobs here can be attributed to bosses whom are too calculative and concerned on cutting down costs. They are more willing to employ foreign workers at a minimum wage of RM900, which is deemed too low for the locals.
With foreign workers willing to accept a salary of RM900 a month, live with 30 others in the same house with supplied food – this of course is an advantage for employers that are only out to make more profit. Could it be that these employers too are taking advantage of the situation, knowing the struggles and desperation that these foreign workers have faced to secure jobs? This indirectly makes it easier for employers to control and manipulate these foreign workers.
Furthermore, the influx of foreign workers has raised some serious concerns as their colony keeps on expanding in almost every industry. Previously, foreign workers only took up jobs in constructions sites or the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, however off late, more and more of them are hired in eateries and grocery stores. Some, have even become taxi drivers and traders in Bukit Bintang and Chow Kit.
Due to these circumstances, locals are forced to compete and share subsidies and facilities such as medicine and public transportation with foreign workers. Additionally, foreign workers even have the privilege to enjoy the infrastructures provided by our government.
On the bright side, it is undeniable that foreign workers have contributed to the development of the nation’s economy, especially in sectors experiencing labour shortages, like construction and plantation. However, their entry has also impacted the high unemployment rate of locals, causing a wastage of human resources in the country.
It’s not the question of whether youths are incapable of taking up jobs done by foreign workers, but just how willing are they to clean up drains, cut the grass, work in construction sites as well as in the farms, under the scorching sun, for a minimum wage? Even if they are willing to do so, the income must at least be reasonable. Surely if they are paid RM1,500 per month with added incentives, they would be more than willing to do so instead of migrating to another country to take up a similar job.
In 2007-2011, when the author was in New Zealand, he got acquainted with some Malaysians who had migrated and have been working there for several years. Despite some being professionally employed, many were doing jobs that required a lot of physical strength like becoming washers, butchers, and loaders at stores. At that time, one individual who worked as a loader in “The Warehouse” in Christchurch, took home a pay of NZD12 per hour. His task involved unloading goods in containers from 6.30am to 5pm, and this was considered heavy duty work as it requires a great amount of physical strength, lifting hundreds of boxes weighing 5kg to 40kg daily.
For example, picking fruits is not as easy as it seems and this job also requires physical strength. Usually, the fee is based on the amount of boxes of fruits picked. In Australia, workers are paid AUD2 per box of grapes that weighs at least 10kg. This means a lot of strength is needed to produce up to 30 to 50 boxes of grapes per day. Many locals however are disinterested to take on jobs such as these, hence, they are mostly taken up by foreign workers.
Foreign workers are also more likely willing to forgo their lifestyle comforts to make a living in Malaysia. On the other hand, Malaysians too are getting their hands dirty working abroad in countries like New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, and staying in cabins and dormitories which are small and cramped, with shared facilities like toilets and dining rooms. Most have relayed they save up and cook their own meals, sometimes only eating rice with fried egg or salted fish, as dining in restaurants can be costly.
So, if Malaysians are willing to leave their homes in search of a better income for their families elsewhere, shouldn’t they be able to do the same in their homeland so long as they are reasonably paid? Nevertheless, in saying which, if push comes to shove, are they willing to cram together with 20 to 30 others in a house like the Bangladeshi workers do?
Having said that, employers cannot be blamed one hundred per cent either for wanting to hire these foreign workers. As stated by the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in Bernama last November, based on the profile of employees, foreign workers from Bangladesh are more loyal and trustworthy, when working at cashier counters, or manning the counters at petrol stations compared with the locals.
This reminds the author of his friend, a businessman running a security guard company for the past 10 years. In the early stages of his business, he employed a hundred per cent local workers but was often faced with disciplinary issues, where some frequently took sick leave or were absent from work without reason.
When they were supposed to be on duty on days of celebrations like Hari Raya, they suddenly called in “sick” on the eve, and did not show up at work the next day. Upon further investigation, it turned out that these local workers had returned to their hometowns simply because they missed home. As a businessman, he had to replace these irresponsible workers and re-hire new workers.
Now, he has hired 140 security guards, mostly Nepalese, and no longer has to deal with sick leaves nor absentees at work. He also goes to sleep peacefully at night without getting calls from customers complaining about the security guard on duty. The Nepalese security guards are well-disciplined, they know how to obey orders and are always willing to work overtime without question, according to him.
At the time of writing, the government has suspended the recruitment of foreign workers, including those from Bangladesh, to urge employers to hire local workers. Zahid had also pointed out that the new policy was to make sure that no foreign workers would be brought to Malaysia while foreign workers who were without official papers or had overstayed their welcome would be nabbed and deported.
After all this commotion, guess, there are a few things that we can take away from this. First off, are Malaysians really willing to work in the 3D sectors, receive a minimum wage, and work equally hard as the foreign workers do? Secondly, as for the minimum wage, can it be increased for the locals? These two issues have to be addressed otherwise, we will never see the end of this problem.
Following the numbers of foreign workers that have made Malaysia “their home”, more focused initiatives must be taken into account to address the citizens’ concerns ? like those who have abused their student and visitor permits, and others that cause numerous problems in our country. The Ministry of Human Resources together with various parties must come together to find a solution to tackle the recruitment of foreign workers and increase the local manpower in the country. With this being said, let’s best hope that everything will be at ease. Malaysians ‘Boleh’!
Chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA), Kelantan Branch