Foreign workers recruitment start here

THE ongoing diplomatic spat between Malaysia and North Korea has laid bare the dysfunctional management of our country’s foreign worker policy. The fact is, we have North Korean workers here.

Initially, there were claims that the North Koreans were here on a special arrangement limited to only one mining company. This is not surprising as North Koreans may have the required mining expertise. But the company disclosed that they no longer have them and the last batch was sent back months ago.

So it is shocking that last Wednesday, the Chief Minister disclosed that out of the 176 North Korean workers in Sarawak, 140 of them were found to be overstaying after their work permits expired while 36 had legal work permits. That means 80% of them are illegals!

According to a report in The Guardian on Oct 29, 2015, human rights activists claimed that tens of thousands of North Koreans were sent to work abroad in conditions that amount to forced labour to circumvent United Nations sanctions and earn up to US$2.3bil in foreign currency for the country, as revealed by a UN investigator.

A local newspaper managed to speak to a North Korean worker with a valid pass, who is one of six legal North Koreans working at a construction along the Batu Kawah-Matang Link Road.

According to him, he has been working in Sarawak for the past four years and started working at the construction site two months ago after working in the Kota Samarahan area.

Asked about his salary, he said: “You would not understand and Malaysians and anyone from any country would not understand.”

So there you go, we have North Koreans working not only in mining.

Our foreign worker issue has reached a dysfunctional state. Despite crackdown after crackdown, the problems have worsened. On Labour Day in 2009, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Government was serious in reducing foreign workers. Within the same week, the Cabinet deferred the decision to increase the levy that was designed to reduce foreign workers.


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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SHAH ALAM: Illegal foreign workers with valid employers can come forward to register and legalise their employment under the Immigration Department\'s E-kad (enforcement card) programme.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali (pic) said the government made the decision to legalise the employment of foreign workers following high demands from several sectors.

\"The registration will be available from Feb 15 at all of our offices in the peninsula and state Immigration departments,\" he told a press conference after visiting its Shah Alam headquarters at Kompleks PKNS Shah Alam, on Tuesday.

Registration for the E-kad will be free and it will be valid for a period of one year.

Only five sectors have been approved for the programme, namely, the plantation, agriculture, industrial, construction and services, said Mustafar.

He added that employers can apply for the E-kad between the period of Feb 15 until June 30.

\"There will be no extension beyond June 30 and we are firm on this.

\"During the one-year period, employers are adviced to apply for their worker\'s passport and permits from their respective embassies,\" he said.

He also warned employers not to apply to register their foreign workers through any middlemen or agents.

\"The employers have to register their foreign workers with the necessary documentations and it will take two days to process,\" he said.
He estimated that between 400,000 to 600,000 foreign workers will turn up to register under the programme.

PETALING JAYA: Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed has shot down suggestions by some employers that the age limit in the enforcement-card registration of foreign workers be raised from 45 to 55.

He said that if the Government decided to increase the age limit, it would be open to abuse.

“We are concerned that some will abuse it because they will become eligible to apply for PR (permanent residence) status if they stay more than 10 years.

“That is why we put the limit at 45,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Nur Jazlan was responding to the suggestion made by a number of restaurant owners.

Employers have to register their foreign workers under the Immigration Department’s E-kad programme, starting Feb 15.

The registration can be made at any Immigration Department office in the peninsula.

Equipped with a biometric security system, E-kad registration will be free and valid for a year.

Nur Jazlan also said that employers should focus on hiring locals and have a younger workforce to improve productivity.

“Employing foreign workers also deprives our local people of job opportunities.

“And now they want to hire older foreign workers.

“They need to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali said the issue was a matter for the policy makers.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said the introduction of the E-kad programme was a positive move and would minimise the problem of lost passports and travel documents.

“The E-kad reader should be made available to all enforcement agencies so that cases of foreign workers being detained for not having the original documents on their person will not recur,” he said.

SME Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang said he received positive feedback from many employers.

He hoped that the programme would be implemented smoothly.

“Employers still need to prepare all the documents but those who have a history of running away from employers will not be eligible for registration under the programme.

“We hope Immigration can simplify the registration process. We urge employers to go directly to the department, and not go through agents,” he said.