COMMENT BY YB PROF DR P.RAMASAMY, DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER II, PENANG
I agree with the Minister of Human Resources, M. Saravanan that the Bangladesh High Commission should not be a nuisance in this country. It should not have advertised about job opportunities in Malaysia to its citizen in the mission’s job portal.
If there were opportunities for foreign workers particularly from Bangladesh, then the mission should have cleared the job advertisement with the ministry of human resources but it failed to do.
This is why Saravanan is upset to the extent he burst out.
The presence of foreign workers both documented and undocumented is mind boggling.
Taken together, they amount to 30 percent of the local workforce. A considerable and frightening presence.
Foreign workers might have been laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in the post pandemic period, there is growing clamour for their recruitment.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) is the chief proponent of employers wanting to use foreign workers. Recently, MEF argued that since there is a ready availability of 1.2 million documented workers, the government should allow these workers to be employed.
It is argued that sectors such as manufacturing, service, tourism and plantation are badly in need of workers. Since local workers are not readily available, employers have no choice but to turn to the already large presence of foreign workers.
Saravanan might complain of foreign workers and the lack of consultation on the part of foreign missions before advertising job opportunities in Malaysia. But he as minister should be equally aware that there is hardly any systematic approach on the part of the government to reduce the dependence on foreign workers.
Why is it that Malaysia with population of more 32 million and half of it being workers is being forced to depend on foreign workers? It is not the country is a paradise for foreign workers, there are so many reports how badly they are treated, housed in crowded conditions and paid meagre wages without any representation.
Due to the unhygienic living conditions, concentrations of foreign workers at work sites have become potential clusters of the Covid-19 pandemic. MEF might want to address the immediate and pressing matters of labour shortage.
This is perfectly understandable.
They might talk about the billions that might be lost by employers and how such a situation might be economically ruinous to the country that is currently coming with the deleterious effects of the pandemic.
But the government must have a final say whether there is going to be a long term transformation of the country’s employment landscape?
Are we going to perpetually depend on foreign workers? Aren’t we going to realise that local workers must be given importance?
Are we going to allow recruitment and employment agencies to bring in foreign workers so that a few could enrich themselves?
There is invariable relationship between foreign workers and the level of skills that are imparted in the production process. Too much dependence on foreign workers will invariably delay the country’s economic and technological transformation.
The sooner we turn our attention to local workers the better.
Foreign workers might be suitable for production process that relies on cheap and unskillful labour. However, they have little to contribute in terms of deepening the production process that has the propensity to create values.
Workers who are subdued and malleable do not add value but constrain the production process.
What is more with the imposition of social controls, labour that is free ceases to exist.
This is sad case of foreign workers.
The retention or removal of foreign workers must not be based on xenophobic considerations.
There is too much of this already.
Foreign workers presence must be evaluated whether or not they contribute in any meaningful sense to the transformation of the economy.