Questions to HR minister – foreign labour and corruption?

HR Minister V. Sivakumar claims that the expected entry of 500,000 foreign workers into Malaysia this year will not affect job opportunities for Malaysians. He also claims that the workers will be brought in from 15 source countries in Asia to be placed in sectors of no interest to local workers. He argues that if we cannot provide a sufficient supply of workers, it will disrupt the optimal operation of the sectors and result in huge losses. Many businesses will shut down if they don’t have enough workers, so before the situation gets worse, we must supply manpower.

The biggest issue not addressed is the fundamental failure by the Home Ministry and Immigration in the management of foreign labor. It is said that we have something like 3 million undocumented workers, and we all know that corruption plays a big part in this. The current Deputy Prime Minister was also implicated in some shoddy dealings before. This is why perhaps the government is yet to make public the Special Independent report by the Committee on Foreign Workers Management, headed by former Court of Appeal Judge Mohd Hishammuddin Yunus.
These proposals by the Minister to bring hundreds of thousands of migrant workers raise several questions:

  1. Why are local youths (ages 15-24) not being employed, given that the youth unemployment rate in Malaysia is anywhere between 10-15%? If companies are so concerned with losses, wouldn’t they resort to paying workers higher wages and improving working conditions? Is the Minister only interested in a cheap labor policy? How can there be a contradiction between labor demand and unemployment? Why are Malaysian workers running to Singapore to do 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs? Perhaps the Minister should ponder these questions and consider why locals are not interested in certain sectors.
  2. Many refugees in Malaysia under the UNHCR are already in the country but denied employment. There are around 150,000 refugees, many of whom are working illegally, underpaid, and denied the right to work. Why can’t the government absorb these refugees into the workforce instead of getting new workers? If we talk about cost, wouldn’t this be cheaper?
  3. On January 11, 2023, the Home Affairs Minister announced that the government plans a recalibration scheme that will see more than 410,000 undocumented immigrants regularized as legal foreign workers. However, the MEF is not satisfied and is asking the government to open the foreign worker recalibration scheme to all sectors. With this additional number of half a million workers, we will have close to a million migrant workers in the coming year. Does this mean that the companies have all the money to pay wages, provide proper housing, and adhere to labor standards?
  4. How can the MEF, which has complained that the minimum wage of RM 1500 a month is too high, resulting in the Minister postponing implementation for companies employing less than 5 workers, now use the same argument that companies will shut down if there is no foreign labor? Won’t these new workers need to be paid a minimum of RM 1500?
    After bringing in all these workers, the MEF may argue that they cannot provide housing and meet the needs of the workers, and ask the government to postpone implementation and enforcement of better labor standards. They will use the same arguments of cost and companies shutting down, and the HR Minister may listen to their arguments and postpone implementation.
  5. We may also see right-wing politicians and authorities blaming large numbers of migrant workers for social problems in the country, such as crime and health concerns.

Finally, it is clear that the business of migrant labor benefits many people, except for the workers who may have paid huge sums to agents to come to Malaysia and those who make big money in bringing them in. Until and unless corruption is addressed, this whole issue of migrant labor is not about labor shortage, but rather a cheap labor policy and a way for some to make money.

S. Arutchelvan
Deputy Chairperson
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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