Foreign workers recruitment start here

CAN we handle a foreign workers’ day off in Malaysia? I am not too sure — I foresee chaos, confusion and disarray as families, businesses and the government try to figure out where things are and how they work. And, of course, all the mamak restaurants will be closed for the day! Last week in the United States, there was a nationwide, “Day Without Immigrants” protests, aimed at showcasing their contributions to the country. People who see themselves as immigrants, legal or illegal, took the day off from work and school. It followed President Donald Trump’s seemingly anti-immigrant stance, which included stopping legal immigration, as well as the likelihood of deporting those who entered the country illegally. Here in Malaysia, depending on whom one were to ask, there could be up to four million migrant workforce, legal or undocumented. Some of us think that it is something to be tolerated, while others suggest that such a large number is not good for our wellbeing and even our safety. The illegals should be deported, and the legal one reduced. Yet, imagine if all of them decided to take a day off, all at the same time.

Clearly, a lot of things would be dirtier, almost instantly. We have practically sub-contracted out the nation’s cleaning duties, either at the malls, airports, offices, schools and most public places, to foreigners. Thus, by noon, on that fateful day, many trash cans and waste bins would fill up, public toilets would begin to stink and the floors dirty. In most local councils, household refuse could just pile up for a day or two more as those responsible try to juggle the now depleted workforce. At the same time, too, some homes would not be throwing out anything, for their domestic help would not be working. Kitchens would smell, laundry and dishes piled up, floors not cleaned and beds unmade. Children would wake up not knowing where their socks are as their parents would be none the wiser. Half the shops in the malls would be closed, while the rest operating at reduced capacity. Owners of cafes and restaurants suddenly need to figure out how to do what in the kitchen, and reduce their menu to fried eggs and canned food, presumably, and to use only disposable utensils. Many establishments powered by foreign workers, such as supermarkets in my area, would be closed, or be operating at less than 30 per cent of their capacity. From the shelf stackers, to the backroom staff to the cashiers, all are foreigners.

At the neighbourhood wet market, oh well, we might just as well not go. The mamak restaurants and banana leaf outlets, which hire almost 100 per cent foreigners, would be closed, and our lives would be poorer for that. Where could we go? There would also be less people available to man guard posts, and provide security for our offices, malls, residential areas and buildings. Almost all construction would stop at housing and commercial projects, from household renovations to our major infrastructure works. Our industrial production index would fall as many factories would close down, so would many providers in the services sector. Our gross domestic product would see a blip, that’s for sure. Vegetables in Cameron Highlands would not be harvested for the day, and our oil palm bunches would be lying by the roadsides uncollected, and the mills would be down for the day. Our ports would slow down, and barber shops would serve fewer clients. By the way, there is another type of foreign workers, the ones whom we gloriously call expatriates. Presumably, if they are in the spirit, they would sit out the day, too. So many multinationals will not have chief executives, country and regional heads. Some of our government-linked companies would also not have leaders for a day. Some schools would have fewer teachers and administrators. But, I do believe we could survive without them for a while longer. Foreign workers not only do the dirty, dangerous and boring jobs, but more importantly, they allow us to pursue other things that are perhaps more rewarding. We get the better end of this deal, cheaper workforce and better quality of life. Yet, foreign labour is an addiction. Right now, we get our fix via citizens from poorer countries looking for a better life. But sooner or later, they might no longer come here because their home countries’ economy have improved, or we could just be priced out of the labour market. Then, we could see upheavals that last more than a day, and we should then know, who needs whom more.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ZAINUL ARIFIN, a former NSTP group managing editor, is now a social media observer.

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