Pandemic an opportunity to reduce reliance on foreign workers

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 May 2020:

The number of foreign workers in this country needs to be reduced between 30% and 40% – in a bid to lower the unemployment rate, which is expected to jump 4% this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Economics and Management Faculty senior lecturer associate professor Dr Anuar Shah Bali Mahomed said the reduction could be done in stages to give Malaysians the opportunity to fill the employment sector.

“This is especially so in jobs such as cashiers, shopkeepers, security guards and if (jobs) in the dirty, dangerous and difficult (3D) sector but it takes some time because they need training and so on,” he said during Bernama TV’s Ruang Bicara programme last night.

He said job opportunities will be limited. “Looking at the latest data also showed the probability of (people) losing jobs is about two to three million, while universities this year alone will release almost 400,000 to 500,000 graduates (into the jobs sector).

“This is a huge number and this is not just happening in Malaysia, other countries are facing the same problem especially in the US, which faces an unemployment rate of more than 20%.”

Therefore, Anuar said the focus should be on how the country could fill the job sector with Malaysians – especially those with low incomes.

“Official figures show there are 1.9 to 2.2 million foreign workers in Malaysia, but we know that there are many illegal immigrants and refugees.

“If we add all this, we have around five million foreign workers in this country,” he said, adding that the figure is twice the number of the Indian community in Malaysia, which is around 2.25 million in 2019.

He also suggests the government create a special scheme for graduates to enable them to further their studies at graduate and doctorate level so they could have a chance of securing a better job when the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

However, Malaysia still needs more than 500,000 workers in the plantation and commodity sectors, despite an estimated 220,000 locals and 265,397 foreigners currently employed in the industry, according to the Plantation Industries and Commodity Ministry.

Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali said Malaysia needs one million workers in the sector to work on its 7.14 million hectares of plantation land.

At present, the entry of foreign workers in the sector had been halted following the Covid-19 pandemic, thus giving the country a chance to fill the vacant position with locals.

“If we talk about the introduction of new foreign workers in the sector, it will not happen in the near future because we have restricted their entry until further notice.

“The current batch of foreign workers are those who have a work permit. We maintained with what we have (foreign workers) and when their permit ends, they will be sent back to their respective countries. This is the opportunity for us to replace them (foreign workers) with locals,” he said during the same talkshow.

He said the plantation and commodity sectors are still unable to attract the interest of locals due to the lack of incentives offered to them to be involved with the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) sector.

“Previously, employers may not have the motivation to open up 3D the sector to locals. At present, the need to recruit locals is huge.”

Meanwhile, the government also encouraged locals, especially youths to become entrepreneurs in various commodity sectors such as kenaf, bamboo, cocoa, oil palm, rubber and others.

The government, he said, provided a grant of RM8,000 for the cultivation of cocoa.

Malaysia is one of the top cocoa exporter and the fifth-largest cocoa grinder in the world, he said adding that, he has directed his officers to look for sites to be a centre for chocolate, for Malaysians to see Malaysian-made chocolate products.

“We will be expanding (the centre) all over Malaysia.”

For kenaf cultivation, the government according to the minister had provided a grant of RM2,350 per hectare.

He also said, although there are about 400,000 rubber smallholders and registered rubber tappers, only a handful of them are still active, he said.

Between January and April this year, there were 60,000 to 70,000 rubber smallholders and tappers who had claimed the Rubber Production Incentive, he said.

The minister said, there has been a high demand for the commodity especially from rubber glove manufacturers due to increased orders from around the world following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government according to Mohd Khairuddin, was also looking at ways to increase the involvement of rubber smallholders in the downstream and upstream sectors.

– Bernama