Call for  a diversified basket of foreign workers  from different sources including  India and China so that no one source country can control the economy or affect the security of Malaysia

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): On Monday, the National Economic Action Council executive director Datuk Mustapha Mohamed estimated that over RM2 billion flows out of the country annually through foreign workers.

This is a very low estimate compared to that given by the Minsiter for  Human Resources, Datuk Dr. Fong Chan onn, only  last month that foreign workers, including illegals, in Malaysia send home about RM5 billion a year - calculated on the basis of a million foreign workers who remit about RM5,000 a year, yielding a total of RM5 billion.

Fong’s figure is itself a gross underestimate, as the government does not deny that the total number of foreign workers, both legal and illegal, are more than two million - although the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) estimates that it is as high as three million.

In April 1998, in the midst of the one of the periodic crisis over foreign workers, the then Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Tajol Rosli openly admitted that there were one million illegals “roaming freely in the country”.

On the conservative estimate of a total of 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, including illegals, the total outflow of foreign exchange would be more than RM10 billion - or RM15 billion going by MTUC’s figure of three million migrant workers.

These contradictory and confusing figures by Ministers and top government leaders only reinforce the public perception that the government is not in full control of the problem of foreign workers, especially as there is no  comprehensive manpower policy in place.

The Home Ministry Secretary-General, Datuk Seri Aseh  Che Mat said on Monday that the government  had decided to reduce the intake of Indonesian workers, though not by half as earlier reported.

He said the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister, would decide on the quantum of reduction for the relevant sectors and he advised employers to replace the Indonesians with workers from eight other countries listed by the government - Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos and Sri Lanka.

The Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers should expand the list of nations to source foreign workers, including India and China.  There should be a policy for a  diversified basket of foreign workers from different sources so that no one source country can control the  economy or affect the security of Malaysia - with the ratios for the mix of foreign countries from different source countries subject to periodic review.

What the country urgently needs is not just a Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers, which only perpetuates the government’s “ad hoc” approach  in handling the problem of foreign workers, but a comprehensive policy on migrant workers, embracing  the short, medium and long-term implications of a huge migrant worker population, with mechanisms to monitor the  social, economic, cultural, law and order  dimensions of the problem.

It is because of the absence of such a comprehensive policy on foreign workers that the  Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad could be surprised by the  presence of illegal immigrants as the workforce for the construction of Cyberjaya.

In a study for the formulation of a comprhensive policy on foreign workers, a report should be submitted by the  Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu on the extent Putrajaya and Cyberjaya, as well as other “grand” infrastructure projects from expressways to skycrapers to airports, which were built on the back not only of foreign workers but illegal immigrants.

*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman