Plantation, manufacturing sectors most affected by foreign workers’ freeze

Incentives to employers to woo Malaysians into 3D jobs will help alleviate unemployment in the country


THE government’s decision to halt foreign workers’ intake until December would mostly affect the plantation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction sectors.

The Malaysian Employers Federation ED Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said the plantation sector is forecast to suffer RM142 billion in their operations for the year due to a shortage of workers.

He said, for instance, fresh fruit producers need labourers available as and when the fruits are ripe and ready to be harvested.

For vegetable growers, he said the lack of manpower can lead to a price increase of green products in the future.

In the manufacturing sector, Shamsuddin said producers of health-related products, such as gloves and personal protective equipment, would be among those to be highly impacted as they require a large workforce to meet the increasing demand for the products.

For the construction sector, he said this move may eventually hit it hard when works resume at a larger scale than it is now.

But in general, he said, Malaysian employers would survive with the foreign workers’ freeze until December, in line with the smaller business operations most companies are doing now.

“Most employers would be quite okay with no intake of foreign workers until the end of the year since demand is very low.

“Some of them have an excess of these workers and intend to send them back to their countries of origin,” Shamsuddin told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

During the last financial crisis, Malaysian employers retrenched about 800,000 legal foreign workers. He said that could happen again post-Covid-19 pandemic with the 2.2 million foreign workers Malaysia has today.

Industry players have recommended for flexibility in hiring foreign workers from another sector which is currently low in demand.

Shamsuddin said the current policy does not allow foreign workers to move from one sector to another.

He said local companies need government assistance in the form of incentives to embark on automation and technology to reduce the dependency on foreign workers and improve productivity.

While Malaysians need to be more receptive and change their attitude towards the works that foreign workers do, Samsuddin said the jobs themselves require rebranding and enrichment to attract the locals.

Sunway University Business School economist Prof Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the construction and plantation sectors are the ones that find it most difficult to find local workers in place of foreigners due to the nature of the jobs that are considered dirty, dangerous and difficult (3D).

Yeah said the government could consider giving support and incentives to employers to provide higher salary and benefits to woo Malaysians into 3D jobs and adopt technology to increase productivity.

With a better scheme, he said locals will be attracted to the 3D jobs and can look at the opportunities as long-term jobs that will help alleviate the unemployment rate in the country.

“I think it is a good opportunity for Malaysian employers to look for Malaysian workers and pay higher wages in tandem with higher productivity with the use of technology, instead of relying on unskilled foreign workers,” Yeah told TMR.

He added that phasing out foreign workers is also necessary from a public health view to avoid any resurgence of the Covid-19 infection.