“Addiction” to migrant workers must stop, socio-economic wellbeing at stake

By Jamalee Bashah


IT was recently reported that the problems faced by our country in relation to foreign workers had given rise to a negative image to the nation. According to data released in 2018 by the National Immigration Department, the number of foreign workers legally employed in Malaysia stood at 1.73 million.

The majority were from Indonesia, the rest are from Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan. In addition, a total of 3.3 million foreigners have settled in Malaysia as estimated by the Department of Statistics.

Based on an article by Murray Hunter entitled “Malaysia’s Massive Foreign Worker Dependency” in November 2019, the number of undocumented workers in Malaysia stood at 2.5 million to 3.3 million.The figure is very alarming as if the number of 5 to 6 million is set against Malaysia’s 32 million population, this places the number of foreigners at 15% of the total population.

Although the influx of foreign workers in Malaysia does contribute to the development as well as the economy of the country, but the negative impact on the people and the country cannot be ignored.

Among the reasons for this extreme number of foreigners is the fact that most foreign workers whose permits have expired chose not to return to their country of origin, staying on in Malaysia illegally.

Some have even started businesses here, including grocery stores, roadside stalls or even stalls in the markets. The ‘Ali Baba’ practices among some locals have also contributed to the spread of foreign workers overstaying.

Here, I would really like to know what are the actions taken by the Government and relevant authorities to curb and eradicate this problem? Will industries be mostly dominated by foreigners in the near future where Malaysians would end up seeking jobs from foreigners in our own country?

It has been said that among the root cause of this is the attitude of our own people (Malaysians)! Almost 1.5 million foreigners in our country are in the construction sector. It seems that most Malaysians do not want to be in this sector especially due to the level of work comfort, unsatisfactory salary and such work is considered as “lacking in class”.

Hence, employers are forced to hire foreign workers especially from Indonesia and Bangladesh to fill the space of labour requirement. Most of these foreign workers have very high resilience and are able to work under extreme pressure, always willing to work overtime with lower wages. Most of them would already have the experience on some construction projects, offering high experience and skills.

The problem of the influx of immigrants in this country may lead to a drastic increase in crime rates, especially in times of economic challenges facing the country. This will inevitably happen when foreigners end up being unemployed with no income to cover their cost of living.

In fact, media reports reported that according to according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN), the police have recorded a total of 42,451 criminal cases involving foreigners between 2016 and August 2019.

I also strongly believe that our country’s economy will be threatened by the influx of foreign workers. This is because the issue of the outflow of national currency at a high rate every month will be detrimental to the country in terms of currency exchange which could be carried out easily and quickly and offering cheap services. Based on media reports, almost RM 5 bil of the country’s money flows out through foreigners working for a year in the construction sector.

According to the Chief Executive of the Malaysian Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), Datuk Ir Ahmad Asri Abdul Hamid, currently there are 420,000 foreign workers registered with the Malaysian Immigration Department (JIM) in the sector. If they send remittances abroad of RM1,000 a month, it is estimated that almost RM5 bil of our money flows abroad.

Apart from that, the Government would also have to incur a high cost of RM1.169 mil for the purpose of detaining illegal immigrants within a day. This will put a high burden on the country’s finances and will threaten the economic growth of the country.

Furthermore, the increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 can also be attributed to the issue of foreign workers and their employers. A rubber glove factory is one of the biggest contributors to the case in Selangor where the employer neglected the rights and welfare of foreign workers. They were placed in cramped, dirty spaces with very bad infrastructure.

Moreover, the latest issues raised in the public realm about alleged exploitation of workers by the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System (FWCMS) certainly does not help the situation.

It seems that this issue has been around for too long and the authorities seemed to be “keeping their eyes shut” to the issues raised including exploitation of foreign workers, over-charging, questions about the “foreign connection” of the FWCMS and the extent to which the company owning the FWCMS (or its holding company) is involved in the recruitment of foreign workers.

I really hope that these matters will not be swept under the carpet. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Human Resources should investigate these thoroughly. More importantly, both ministries need to be transparent as the public deserves to know!

At a time when the nation, is faced with economic challenges including lay-offs, locals should be given priority to fill-up every ‘vacancy’ in the employment sector. With so many people left unemployed and losing their source of income, I am sure more locals will be willing to work in sectors previously occupied by foreigners.

Our people are no less great, they are also able to work in these sectors, as evidenced in the construction sector and other ‘heavy’ sectors in Singapore. The issue should now be about the need for a decent salary, as opposed to harping on Malaysians being ‘choosy’. – March 3, 2021


Jamalee Bashah is the President of Patriots Malaysia.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.



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