Shortage of 420,000 foreign workers: Government never learn from its mistakes

Media Statement
by Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): The Internal Affairs Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid has just announced that the government will bring in 100,000 workers from Pakistan as the local industries could not wait for the Indonesia workers to return to Malaysia. His ministry would not be ended up in such a desperate situation if he has heeded the DAP’s advice.  

In a press conference on December 28 last year, DAP has urged the government to seriously consider extending the amnesty to a date after the Chinese New Year festive season and meanwhile come out with a comprehensive plan for the recruitment and employment of foreign workers.

We also pointed out that sending them away and then bring them back to the country is problematic, illogical and unpractical, and certainly will cost the local industries and services a great deal of problems.

We have then proposed to the government to legalize foreign workers locally with the presence of their respective employers as an alternative to save the trouble of sending out and bringing in, which is a lose-lose situation for Malaysian employers and foreign workers.

DAP has presented our views to the government upon receiving numerous complaints from coffee shop and restaurant owners in Petaling Jaya.

At that time, we have warned the government not to repeat its mistakes in 2002, when tens of thousands of foreign workers were sent back to Indonesia and other countries and soon after the government was forced to review its policy and many Malaysian employers went as far as Indonesia to recruit workers to save the local economy. It was reported that more than 440,000 foreign workers were re-employed in the process. Imagine the hassle and the amount of money lost in providing transportation to workers, mobilization of police and immigration officers in the futile exercise.

Needless to say, the ministers were too arrogant to listen to the voices of the people. They have rejected our suggestions without giving any response.

The recent amnesty for illegal foreign workers finally ended on 28 February 2005 after two postponements largely due to the tsunami disaster. The government has launched the massive operations encoded Ops Tegas from March 1 this year and soon after found itself in deep trouble even before the month is over.

The Minister of Human Resources Datuk Dr Fong Chan On is now complaining about acute shortage of workers; he estimates that Malaysia needs no less than 420,000 foreign workers: 200,000 for Manufacturing, 150,000 for Construction, 50,000 for Plantation and 20,000 for Services.
As predicted by the DAP, many coffee shops, restaurants, laundry shops, barber shops, farms, small factories and construction sites were now forced to close shop or simply put to a halt when the so-called illegal foreign workers were either sent back or went hiding somewhere in the country.

On the other hand, several local employers were either fined or jailed for employing illegal workers. One coffee shop owner in Petaling Jaya was fined as much as RM60, 000 for employing 10 workers. Another employer was jailed for one year and fined RM10, 000 just for employing one worker.

(Under the Immigration Act, employers can be fined from RM10, 000 to RM50, 000 for each illegal worker employed. They will also be liable to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum of six lashes of the cane. Many employers have argued that such laws, especially the canning, would only serve to encourage more corruption on the part of the police and immigration officers.)

The roots of the problem were corruption and the lack of a sound recruitment and employment policy on foreign workers. Replacing old employment agencies with new ones would not solve our problems.

Many deadlines were missed and millions of dollars must have been lost in the process, but minister like Dr Fong have no clues whatsoever. All the six Cabinet ministers who collectively created the big mess today have a lot of explanations to do. I doubt they could come out with any good solutions in the coming joint-meeting next week. They could only pray for the speedy return of the Indonesian workers.


* Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew, DAP International Publicity Secretary and NGO bureau chief