KUALA LUMPUR: IT is high time the government seriously looked into measures, including those unpopular with industry players, to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign workers.
With about four million foreign workers, the country’s reliance on foreign labour is suppressing local wages and impeding Malaysia’s progress towards becoming a high-productivity nation.
Speaking to the New Straits Times, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government should address the influx of foreign workers’ issue in its entirety.
Its president, Datuk Abdul Halim Mansor, said the oppression of foreign workers should stop, adding that they, too, should be protected under labour laws.
He said for the past 23 years, the International Labour Organisation had questioned Malaysia over cases under C19 – Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation) Convention 1925.
“If we arrest a foreigner in Malaysia for robbery, can he be exempt (from the law) for being a foreigner? The answer is no.
“When the government introduced the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the idea is that these workers are here temporarily.
“It should not be that way. The Employment Act does not specify that it only applies to locals. It refers to anyone who is hired in this country, which means even foreigners deserve to get protection like locals do, as provided for under the Employment Act.”
He said the low cost of foreign labour indirectly led to discrimination against locals by employers.
“If locals are hired, employers are required to pay higher overtime and double or triple pay during public holidays. But foreign workers work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and are given a one-off payment. That is why hiring foreign workers is simply more attractive (to employers).”
On July 29, the New Sunday Times reported that there were at least two illegal workers for every legally employed worker in the country.
The exclusive report, quoting industry players from various economic sectors, revealed that it had always been the “extra” help that employers received from the estimated 2.3 million illegal migrants that allowed them to keep their operations afloat.
The government, they said, should address the root cause of the illegal workers issue, which was attributed to the involvement of third-party agents.
Industry players also urged the government to reconsider a plan by the previous administration to cap the percentage of foreigners in the local job market at 15 per cent by 2020.
There are about four million foreign workers in Malaysia, with 3.2 million of them illegal.
The 1.7 million legal workers account for 12 per cent of the total workers in the job market.