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Haven for migrant workers?

10 Nov 2019 / 18:36 H.

IN a bustling supermarket in Bangsar, the worker handling the cash till is a Bangladeshi, the guy managing the parking is an Indian national, the people looking after the fresh produce section are either Bangladeshis or Indonesians, the owner is a Malaysian.

At a petrol station, all its employees from the attendant to the cashier are foreign nationals. In my condominium, the worker who collects the rubbish is a foreigner, the guards are all the same, the maintenance team is Bangladeshi. The café is run by a Pakistani married to an Indonesian; nice combo and they dish out very good fusion food. The landscape guys with green fingers are also foreign nationals.

I go to Little India in Brickfields. Almost all its restaurants are manned by Indian workers who have learnt the art of appeasing Malaysian taste buds. The nasi lemak is just as good and their mamak mee makes the grade just as well.

The grocery stores are also managed by foreign workers. Tailoring is completely taken over by “experts” from India. However, I was happy to note that about 20% of those operating beauty parlours are still Malaysian with the rest hailing from many parts of India.

At the McDonalds, I now see foreign workers taking on roles of cashiers and cooks. Increasingly, the foreign workers syndrome is expanding to a dizzying point of no return, and I hope I am wrong.

Hypermarkets can’t do without these workers and most of them are doing well with a positive attitude and commendable aptitude. Learning the local language is no mean task and the foreign workers are eager to learn and earn.

The petrol kiosk in my neighbourhood has been operating with the same crew of four Bangladeshis for decades and never once have I seen the owner.

Oh, yes, not forgetting some digital marts, the Pakistani workers are exceptional with the technology and IT know-how and better still, with their above-par marketing skills and sales tricks, we are doing good here as well. You will get a “yes” and a “can” for every request and bid but you will only realise the folly days or weeks later.

The statistics on foreign workers is a perennial mystery with numbers entering the country illegally and without work permits. There is a flaw somewhere in our system and nobody wants to plug it. Also referred to as irregular foreign workers, there is no definitive estimate of the number of illegal foreign workers, according to several reports we have.

Based on its enforcement operations, the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that there are seven irregular foreign workers for every 10 regular foreign workers.

This suggests that the number of irregular foreign workers stands at 1.2 million (based on 2017 data on registered foreign workers).

Various factors contribute to the presence of irregular foreign workers. Some of the main factors are (i) weak border security (ii) a frail or ineffective immigration system (iii) a complex, lengthy and expensive foreign-worker recruitment process, and (v) weak enforcement of immigration rules.

It is no secret that Malaysia still is a magnet for foreign workers from lower-income countries, legal or otherwise, owing to fast and steady economic progress and a higher old-age dependency ratio.

The foreign workforce number has been hovering around 15% of the total labour force in recent years according to Labour Force Surveys by the Statistics Department.

Indonesians continue to be the dominant foreign worker group, benefiting from geographical and cultural proximity, albeit on a declining trend.

According to the Statistics Department, we have Indonesia as the top beneficiary country from foreign remittance with RM6.2 billion, followed by Nepal at RM5.9 billion and India at RM3.9 billion.

My lament is the over-dependency on foreign workers which has expanded from the traditional sectors to almost all sectors. No job escapes the foreign-worker intrusion.

Is immigration good or bad? Some argue that immigrants flood across borders, steal jobs, are a burden on taxpayers and threaten native culture. Others say the opposite, that immigration boosts economic growth, meets skill shortages (really?), and helps create a more dynamic society (at what cost).

Evidence clearly shows that immigrants provide significant economic benefits. However, there are local and short-term economic and social costs. Foreign workers allow us to enjoy life without having to toil in the 3D (dangerous, dirty and difficult) job postings, for example. May sectors have jobs that have round-the-clock functions and the locals are not interested in such jobs. I would think easy availability of foreign workers has become an excuse for our youngsters to stay away from jobs.

The trend is that every Gen-Y wants to start a business, every one of them wants the luxury of becoming their own boss or an entrepreneur. Just check the number of food trucks that are doing fantastically well on weekends and you will know how earning a living has been transformed and transposed to suit the times and need. This is not a bad thing but how do we sustain the other work sectors?

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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