Employers remain cautious about hiring, for now

A majority of employers waiting for January 2022 to embark on hiring new staff and utilising the available incentives under JaminKerja

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BLOOMBERG 

MOST employers remain very cautious on hiring at the moment as the number of Covid-19 cases remain higher than anticipated, as well as the emergence of a new variant — Omicron.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said a majority of employers are waiting for January 2022 to embark on hiring new staff and utilising the available incentives under Jamin Kerja Keluarga Malaysia (JaminKerja).

He said with the resumption of operations, the concern of most employers is to ensure adequate supply of manpower, so that industry can operate at optimum capacity.

“Though the government’s decision to open up the economy provided employers with the motivation for recovery, the shortage of manpower in sectors shunned by locals is hindering such efforts.

“Employers have serious concerns on the issue of manpower shortage, especially for critical sectors such as the plantation, construction, manufacturing, food and beverage, tourism and large retailers,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He said many employers are very careful with their expenditures in 2020 and 2021, which is understandable as the restrictions imposed during Movement Control Order had impacted their revenue collections.

“The measures taken to mitigate costs included moving to less expensive premises, reducing labour costs such as pay cuts and freeze on bonuses and pay review, freeze on hiring, not replacing staff that resign/retire and as a last resort, reducing the number of staff.”

MEF supports the opening up of the economy and employers are eager to rehabilitate their businesses, but those in these sectors are frustrated at the scarcity of available workers.

Despite the unemployment rate dropping further to a pandemic low of 4.5% in September 2021, employers in these sectors are faced with extreme difficulties to get the required manpower to run their business.

While MEF supports efforts to reduce dependence on foreign workers in certain sectors, Syed Hussain said the government should address this complex matter on a sectoral basis as many sectors also depend of foreign labour, apart from the plantation and construction sectors.

“The government should urgently address the shortage of more than 40,000 workers in the plantation sector. Even though the government approved the intake of 32,000 new foreign workers in September 2021, up till now the workers are not yet in Malaysia.

“The construction sector in the country is facing a serious shortage of workers, causing some major construction projects to fall behind schedule. A shortage of workers severely impacted production, especially for the electrical and electronic industries, disrupted supply chain and business operations, resulting in delays and being unable to meet new orders from both local and foreign buyers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) CEO Yap Lip Seng said looking back at the industry even before the pandemic, as the industry grew, demand of manpower grew along with it, and of course interest in building a career in hospitality too.

However, he said, as society advances, expectations are different. Gone are the days when hotel school graduates are expected to start at the bottom, even at house-keeping or waiter/waitress level. Graduates now expect executive or managerial level jobs.

“This left a gap in entry level jobs such as waiters, housekeeping and also kitchen stewards among others. Pre-pandemic, there were contract service providers that filled in this gap, particularly for cleaning jobs, and they are reliant on foreign labour.

“Coming back to the pandemic, it has in fact aggravated the situation. Hospitality and tourism is not only seen as ‘difficult’ jobs, but also uncertain. Apart from having to let go of our existing employees as hotels can no longer sustain losses from travel restrictions imposed, no one wants to work in the hotel industry anymore, even banks classify us as a ‘high risk’ industry,” he told TMR.

MAH already warned about this in the early stages of the pandemic, that if the industry does not receive sufficient financial assistance, we will lose our talent and it will be costlier to rebuild later on. And with that, we lose our tourism capacity and ability to receive tourists, we will not be able to cater to tourism recovery when the time comes.

“All we asked for was a higher wage subsidy, being the most impacted industry and expected to recover last, but unfortunately the industry did not receive sufficient help to retain its people. Hence, the problem today.

“Singapore, for example, did very well in maintaining hospitality employment in the hospitality industry. Ex-employees are reluctant to return to the industry, most had ventured into other industries deemed as more stable like manufacturing, or into the gig economy for more freedom.”

Yap said nevertheless, hotels are already re-hiring and hiring to fill in increased demand for the peak period.

“Cost-management measures taken by hotels since the beginning of the pandemic are still very much needed to ensure sustainability of the industry after sustaining losses for almost two years.

“Part of the key initiatives involves maximising productivity and efficiency through multitasking of employees across different departments and skillsets, as well as on energy consumption that could include limiting rooms inventory.”