Sunday, December 11, 2011

M’sia overly dependent on foreign workers

Malaysians are relying more on foreign workers and a change of mindset is needed, says Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam.

 PETALING JAYA: We see them everywhere – in restaurants, foodstalls, homes, gardens, construction sites, just to name a few places. We are talking about the ever-present foreign workers.
There are about 3.1 million documented illegal and legal immigrants in the country, and probably more still under the radar screem. The consensus is that Malaysia is facing the problem of having too many foreign workers.
Admitting that this was the “biggest issue” faced by his ministry, Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam said efforts by the government to reduce the numbers have been met with difficulties, including opposition from employers.
“Malaysians have become too dependant on foreign workers. The way forward is for the employers to have a change in their mindsets,” said Subramaniam.
This mindset change, he said, must translate into employers being less labour dependent and more skill dependent.
Subramaniam said many developed countries have gone through this phase and have been able to transform themselves by using less manpower and more machines. He believes Malaysia can change, too.
He said the country is caught in a “vicious cycle” where wages are low and locals don’t want to work.
“And because locals don’t want to work, foreign workers come in, and the more they come in, the more wages won’t increase,” he said, adding that he hopes wage increases would help alleviate this problem.
Subramaniam was speaking to FMT in a recent interview about the foreign worker situation in Malaysia. During the interview, he also spoke about what he thought about cases of foreign maid abuses and how the government was addressing the issue as well as the status of asylum seekers in the country.
Below are excerpts of the interview
What are some of the plans the ministry has for foreign workers?
Ideally, we should be in a situation where we can manage with the minimum number of foreign workers. Unfortunately in Malaysia now, too many sectors have become dependent on foreign workers. Any attempt by the government to reduce it at any stage is met with objection and opposition from employers. And this is the ministry’s biggest issue.
After the 10th Malaysia Plan, the government said, ‘we’ll be able to reduce foreign workers to 1.1 million.’ That was our expectation. Initially, it went to 1.1 million during the economic crisis, but after that, it slowly went back to 1.8 million illegal workers.
If you see the recent registration, we’ve registered 1.3 million illegal workers, along with the 1.8 million legal. This means, we already have 3.1 million foreign workers. And there are also fears that some are still undocumented. As far as we’re concerned, these numbers are huge.
So, how are we dealing with this huge number?
There are two parts of this argument. On one side are the non-employers, whose argument is that ‘we should stop them from coming in’. There is also this concern that the unusual number of foreign workers has led to suppression of wages. Wages are not high in Malaysia, and because wages are low, locals don’t want to work… and because locals don’t want to work, foreign workers come in, and the more foreign workers come in, the more the wages don’t increase. So it becomes a vicious cycle. That is one view.
The other group, the employers, says that ‘we cannot get locals, we’re willing to pay locals higher, but they don’t want to come’. This is is true in particular categories of industries. We are really critically dependent on foreign workers, like plantations; some 90 percent of the harvesters and tappers are foreigners. And the estates are not able to draw the younger generation to take part in this activity.
Likewise in construction, except for locals who are probably independent contractors, foreign workers are the mainstay. Likewise in domestic maids, there are a lot of people who say you can train locals and give opportunities, but nobody wants to go for such training. It’s the nature of the job itself; locals don’t want them.
So we are caught in a bind. These three sectors alone employ nearly 1.2 million people. So we would not be able to reduce (the number of workers) in these three sectors. Then we have the manufacturing sector and service sector, restaurants. When we tell restaurants we are freezing the intake of workers, they say they have to close shops.

By the way, would minimum wage also affect foreign workers?
Yes, the law is such that it would.
How do we enforce these new guidelines for the protection of maids?
To be able to visit these 280,000 homes (with maids) will not be possible. So to a great extent it would be the self-empowerment of the maids themselves. So we will give them all the information needed where they would generally would be able to communicate and contact us for help in case they are being abused. Once we receive such a report, we can take things seriously.

What kind of protection can we offer Myanmar amnesty seekers?
Well those already come under the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and given official recognition as refugees. Our policy is that we allow them to be here with the hope that they will be resettled in some country (willing to take them) as soon as possible.
But they are not allowed to work and they are constantly harassed by the police.
Well, the police shouldn’t be doing that. I have discussed this problem with the Home Ministry and told them that the asylum seekers need to work to live, otherwise it’s a stress on them. I think the Home Ministry is sympathetic, but they are concerned that by allowing the refugees to work, they would end up staying longer.

Source : FreeMalaysia