Malaysia not El Dorado for foreign workers

THERE is huge and inexplicable labour crunch in the country whether one speaks of the need for unskilled labour or skilled or talented labour force.

Unfortunately, the Malaysian Government is not in position to address and resolve these two types of labour demands. The promise of thousands of foreign workers has yet to materialise, hence resulting in the private sector losing billions of ringgit.

There is not enough labour in the plantations; palm oil fruits are left to rot. The cost of harvesting and transporting palm fruits have skyrocketed.

In fact, thousands of acres of palm oil land are left unattended due to the acute shortage of labour. Prices of palm oil fruits are high but there are no harvesters available.

The Government may be genuinely concerned about the labour shortage, but the devil seems to be in the implementation of the recruitment process.

Labour woes

 Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy

The Human Resources Ministry is in charge of processing the labour requirements but the final approval seems to rest with the Home Affairs Ministry.

Both the ministries don’t really see eye-to-eye on the needs of labour as with what applications can be approved or with regard to issuance of work permits.

Needless to say, the presence of agents and sub-agents in Malaysia as well as in the labour sourcing countries are complicating matters.

Since there are lot of money to be made in the labour procurement, the agents – a spike in the agent’s commission – might inadvertently be slowing down the hiring process.

Despite the big talk, the flow of labour is not steadily forthcoming from countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and the likes.

This explains why the Government is suddenly interested in bringing about 10,000 workers from Sri Lanka.

It seems that such move is not just to address Malaysia’s labour woes but to assist Sri Lanka by providing employment for its workers who are without employment given the country’s economic slowdown due to financial turmoil.

Lacking transparency

It also must be realised that what is announced by the Government and what is implemented are two different things. This is because what is announced does not necessary gets implemented.

Just like the promise of bringing thousands of foreign workers to the country. What is happening on the ground is the slow flow of labour to the disappointment of more than 40,000 companies that have applied for labour.

The HR Ministry should be open and transparent about the labour recruitment process. They should not say one thing and do another.

The desperate move to bringing in labour from Sri Lanka is an indication that we have failed the employers and companies. The economy is in a dire straits due labour shortage.

Is it no wonder that the ringgit is being constantly devalued against the greenback. What guarantee is there that the 10,000 Sri Lankan workers will flock to Malaysia?

Malaysia is no longer the El Dorado of foreign workers. The use of forced labour has militated against the mass recruitment of foreign labour. Countries in the Middle East are more attractive to labour from South Asia.

Rather than promising the employers of the supply foreign workers, the Government should tell the truth about why the delay and the reasons behind it.

At least by being open and transparent, the employers will be free from being seduced by empty promises made by the general. – Sept 22, 2022


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.

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

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