KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 (Bernama) — For years, controlling the influx of foreign workers, as well as illegal immigrants, into the country has been one of the biggest challenges confronting Malaysia.
Viewed as a pot of gold by many, Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Filipina and Myanmar nationals have been making a beeline to Malaysia in search of greener pastures or merely to eke out a living.
Despite numerous operations undertaken by the authorities in the past to deport illegal immigrants, their numbers remain high and are, in fact, rising year after year.
Last November, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem revealed that Malaysia’s migrant workforce, both legal and illegal, now numbered a worryingly high 6.7 million. Out of this total, only 2.1 million possessed valid work permits and were registered with the Immigration Department.
He said the high demand for workers in various sectors and the attitude of the locals – who were choosy about their jobs – had made it difficult for the authorities to control the influx of immigrants into the country.
INFLUX GETTING SERIOUS
If the statistic provided by the minister was correct, it would mean that Malaysia’s foreign labour numbers have surpassed its Chinese population. According to the Statistics Department, the population of Malaysia’s second largest ethnic group is forecast to touch 6.64 million this year.
Recently, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Wee Ka Siong, commenting on the rising migrant workforce figures, said the government should regulate and monitor the numbers and whereabouts of foreign workers in Malaysia.
The Immigration Department is targeting for Malaysia to be free of illegal immigrants by 2020. But with the huge numbers already within our shores, will the department be able to attain its goal?
Another pertinent question to ponder upon is whether the country is really in need of that many foreign workers. In fact, in some parts of the Klang Valley, the locals are sometimes outnumbered by the immigrants, who even establish their own colonies, much to the dismay of their Malaysian neighbours.
Prof Dr Shazali Abu Mansor, who is a lecturer with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s Faculty of Economy and Business, said the nation’s dependence on foreign labour has reached a critical stage.
He said the influx of foreign workers should not be viewed lightly as they might take charge of the economy given half the chance.
EXERTING DOMINANCE IN BUSINESS
If previously they mainly took up semi-skilled jobs in the construction, plantation and manufacturing sectors, now they have their own colonies and many have even become business proprietors, he said.
“Many migrant workers came in as unskilled labourers, but now that they have their own businesses in the Chow Kit and Bukit Bintang areas (in Kuala Lumpur), guess who has become the boss?
“If the influx goes unchecked, the graph will continue to rise… it will not be impossible for them to take over the nation’s economy and we’ll see Malaysians working under them,” he said.
Shazali said with Malaysia having increased the minimum wage to RM900 in 2012, foreign workers were now earning more.
“Our nation is on the losing end due to the outflow of billions of ringgit… how are we gaining from this?
“It’s true that the foreign workers have contributed to the nation’s economic growth and development, but then their influx comes with some high risks. The nation must reduce its reliance on outsiders. If not, how long are we going to continue relying on them?” he asked.
According to a November 2013 report, Western Union Malaysia – which offers international money transfer services – Chief Executive Officer Chew Mei Ling was quoted as saying that total remittance by foreign workers was expected to increase by five percent in 2014. She had said that the amount remitted in 2013 had shown an upward trend, compared with the RM21.7 billion recorded in 2012.
Shazali said the influx of foreigners has resulted in Malaysians having to compete and share government subsidies, as well as medical and public transportation facilities, with them.
“The government has provided us with the infrastructure but it’s mainly being enjoyed by the non-citizens… hospitals, roads and public transportation are all congested with foreigners,” he said.
He suggested that the government review its policy on the intake of foreign labour and only allow certain sectors, like construction and plantation, to hire foreigners.
“It’s not necessary to employ foreigners as cleaners, security guards, cashiers, restaurant waiters and shop assistants as such posts can be filled by locals.
“I would also like to urge Malaysians not to be dependent on foreign workers… as if they can’t survive without hiring foreigners as domestic helpers, cleaners or waiters,” he said.
Economist Prof Datuk Dr Amir Hussin Baharuddin, who is attached to Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Centre for Economic Studies, said while it was undeniable that the absence of a pool of cheap labour in Malaysia would have paralysed its construction, plantation and service sectors, turning to migrant workers for help has resulted in too many of them flooding the country.
“We don’t need so many of them… not all sectors require their services. There should be laws to limit the numer of sectors where they can work, for example the agriculture and construction sectors.
“The problem is that in order to save costs, the corporate sector prefers to hire foreigners… this is because for locals, the minimum pay of RM900 is not sufficient,” he said.
He said although their costs would go up if companies hired locals, they should think of the long-term implications as the nation would no longer be dependent on foreign workers.
“They should look into the salaries they can offer in order to attract locals… they can also consider giving them a special allowance, for example.
“Meanwhile, Malaysians should not ‘sell’ their business licenses to foreigners… if they don’t want to do business, they should give the opportunity to a fellow Malaysian, not a foreigner. Stern action should be taken against such people,” he said.
REGULATING THE INFLUX
He also said that Malaysia should emulate developed countries like Japan, South Korea, the United States and China, where automation was fast replacing foreign labour.
“When they embarked on cutting costs, they turned to technology to reduce their dependency on manual labour. The construction industries in South Korea, Japan and China are making use of prefabricated technology which enables work to be completed faster, without the need for a large labour force,” he said.
Amir Hussin said Malaysia could control the entry of immigrants and, at the same time, conduct an indepth study to indentify the causes behind the influx.
“What is causing the influx? Is it due to weaknesses in the maritime enforcement agencies or the Immigration Department?” he asked.
He suggested that an independent body or special committee be set up to study and resolve migrant labour issues more effectively.
“We hear of illegal immigrants who are deported and then re-enter our country the very next day. This is a never-ending problem and we need a more sustainable mechanism to rectify this situation.
“We have seen how special bodies with adequate powers operate, and one good example is the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which has been very effective,” he said.