Employers concerned about limit to foreign workers under 12MP

Most foreigners are employed in sectors where it is difficult to recruit local workers, says MEF


MALAYSIAN employers worry that one of the goals of the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) to reduce the employment of foreign workers would hamper the country’s ability to remain competitive among its neighbours.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said any move to limit the employment of foreign workers should be approached with the country’s current labour shortage issue in mind.

MEF president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said employers must be allowed to do everything they can to ensure production can meet customer demands, because in a competitive climate, the risk of losing clients is real.

One of the goals of the recently announced 12MP is to limit the presence of foreign workers in the country by limiting them to no more than 15% of the labour force.

Syed Hussain said most foreigners are employed in sectors where it is difficult to recruit local workers.

“To revitalise our damaged economy, we need to increase the business activities in the industries mentioned where locals will not work.

“Many plantations and estates are unable to collect and process the harvest as there is no labour. These industries will die and the economy will suffer. We need the resources now. Not later,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association yesterday made an urgent appeal to the government to allow foreign worker intake as soon as possible as there has been a factory worker shortage of 25,000 since 2019.

Syed Hussain said even though the unemployment rate is 4.8%, local workers are not keen to work in the plantation, construction and manufacturing sectors.

“The intention of imposing a freeze on intake of new foreign workers is to give priority to local workers to be employed.

“Obviously, locals that are unemployed are not willing to fill up the vacancies as such jobs are seen as in the lower categories and unattractive to the locals. The implementation of programmes such as MyFuterejobs portal and PenjanaKerjaya to recruit locals have not been successful.”

Syed Hussain said there are about 1.7 million legal foreign workers in Malaysia.

“With a total labour force of 16.8 million, the foreign workers made up 10.11% of the labour force, well below the set limit of 15%.

“The challenge the private sector is facing is the shortage of workers, in particular foreign workers. The shortage of foreign workers has derailed the efforts of the private sector employers to quickly recover from the adverse impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He believes the Recalibration Programme can be enhanced so as to fully utilise the foreign workers who are already in Malaysia but, for certain non-compliance of Immigration laws, are of illegal status.

“The government should facilitate the illegals to obtain passports from their respective embassies. So far, 71,510 illegal foreign workers have registered for the Recalibration Programme.

“In the event the Recalibration Programme is made more flexible and the restrictive conditions reviewed, MEF will advise the members to take this opportunity to legalise their illegal foreign workers and in the process also arrange for these workers to be included in the Covid-19 vaccination programme.”

Syed Hussain said there is a need for a clear and transparent policy on how to get illegal foreign workers vaccinated.

“It is important to grant immunity to the illegal foreign workers for a reasonable period from any Immigration offences, so they can get vaccinated without any fear of action from the authorities.

“Malaysia hosts over 160,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, with the majority coming from Myanmar. Refugees and asylum seekers cannot work legally. However, many refugees and asylum seekers do work in informal jobs.”

Syed Hussain believes allowing refugees currently residing in Malaysia to be legally employed will have a positive impact on the economy and public finances. If refugees and asylum seekers are allowed to be employed, their contribution to the annual GDP would increase to over RM3 billion by 2024 through higher spending.

“The wider economic impact, including indirect effects such as lower business costs, could be substantially larger. Overall, Malaysia will benefit from refugees and asylum seekers working.

“Refugees and asylum seekers should have job mobility and should not be confined to specific industries or locations — this will ensure that they can make the best use of their skills and improve their productivity.”

The MEF president stressed that the government should also review the freeze on intake of new foreign domestic maids as since the first Movement Control Order (starting March 2020), hiring of foreign domestic maids was not allowed.

He said there have been calls to lift the ban on hiring foreign domestic workers who have gone through health checks, have been inoculated against Covid-19 and are not pregnant.

“Many employees rely on domestic maids to take care of their children and aged parents. The decision to extend the freeze on recruitment of domestic maids will make it difficult for working parents to take care of their children and aged parents, especially when the Covid-19 threat still looms.

“This results in women employees having difficulties to come back and work, and hamper employers’ efforts to quickly recover from the setbacks that occurred during the shutdowns. Thus, it is critical for the government to review the policy on freezing recruitment of foreign domestic maids.”