by NG MIN SHEN
THE domestic retail industry needs to hire more locals instead of depending on foreign workers too much in light of the country’s foreign labour shortage.
Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) president Datuk Garry Chua said while the issue needs a longterm solution, retailers need to kickstart the process by prioritising locals when recruiting.
“On the retail side, we should try to have more locals on the front line. We also need more locals for the backend, but sometimes we have no choice as locals are not interested in those jobs,” he told the media at the opening ceremony of the Second Malaysia International Retail & Franchise Exhibition (MIRF 2017) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. “It is a process we’re encouraging retailers to get on board with,” he added.
He said foreign labour has long been a problem for Malaysia — owing to issues such as illegal intake of unregistered workers and social ills that arise from having large numbers of foreign workers in the country.
In an attempt to address the problem, the government in February last year suspended recruitment of all foreign workers, but lifted the ban three months later for the manufacturing, construction, plantation and furniture-making sectors due to an acute shortage of labour.
Despite measures rolled out by the authorities to curb illegal hiring, the problem persists and the shortage has not lessened, while many employers continue to take in illegal workers — so as to bypass lengthy immigration procedures and save costs.
“It’s not something that can be resolved overnight, but what is important is to start the process now, to alleviate the dependency on foreign workers. There are too many in Malaysia and the distribution is not balanced across different sectors,” Chua said.
He noted certain sectors such as construction and furniture production, typically hire more foreign staff than others, thus they would require a different solution to solve the issue.
Chua also stressed on the importance of engagement between the government and the relevant industry stakeholders to structure a longer-term solution that would benefit both the government and the private sector without being too costly.
“In certain sectors like construction, there are methods like the Industrial Building System which can be used to speed up the process and reduce dependency on manual labour,” he said.
The government intended Malaysia to be free of illegal immigrants by 2020, while aiming to reduce the percentage of foreign labour in the workforce to 15%.
It said last year registered foreign workers in Malaysia numbered over 2.1 million, while another 1.7 million illegal foreign labourers were estimated to be working in the country as of December 2015.
Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, who officiated the MIRF 2017 exhibition, said productivity would increase with the employment of local intellectuals.
“The ministry would like to see the retail sector improve and create more jobs for our economy. We are working closely with the sector, which is also collaborating with the International Trade and Industry Ministry, to bring in more tourists who will spend in our country,” Hamzah said.