Foreign workers are indifferent towards cooking, Penang chief minister says defending ban

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said it is not discriminatory to bar foreign workers from being cooks at hawker stalls because hawker licenses are granted only for lower-income Malaysians. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said it is not discriminatory to bar foreign workers from being cooks at hawker stalls because hawker licenses are granted only for lower-income Malaysians. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng defended today the state’s decision to ban foreign cooks in hawker stalls, saying the workers are forced to do so by stall owners rather than their own initiative.

Lim insisted that there is no denying foreign workers’ rights to cook with the ban, since the workers are indifferent to whether they cook or wash plates as the decision ultimately lies with their employers.

“Telling foreign workers that they can not cook in hawker stalls is not denying their rights or depriving them of their passion for cooking because they are indifferent – it is a job not of their choice, but the decision of their employer.

“Further, any culinary skills these foreign workers acquire would be lost because foreign workers will have to return home after a period of time,” Lim said in a statement here.

The DAP secretary-general also said that the state has taken a “tough pro-active” decision in order to preserve the unique heritage of its street-food, in parallel with foreigners not being given the privilege to hawker licenses across Malaysia.

“There is nothing discriminatory about barring foreign workers from being cooks only at hawker stalls because hawker licenses are granted for lower-income Malaysians and supposed to be owner-operated, whilst this ruling does not bar foreigners from owning restaurants nor prevent foreign workers from cooking in restaurants.” 

“How can this ruling be undemocratic or discriminatory when it is intended to protect the uniqueness of Penang food, that hawker stalls must be owner-operated and that foreign workers can assist the hawker in other duties?” said Lim.

English daily The Star reported yesterday that the ban has received the support form majority of hawkers and related associations, including Penang Consumer Protection Association and Penang Hawkers Association.

In a survey result released last month, most Penang residents said they prefer for their hawker fare to be dished out by locals rather than foreign workers.

From the survey of 12,000 respondents by the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) and the Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP), the two dishes that residents most prefer to be prepared by locals are char koay teow and laksa.

Lim had on July 13 proposed that the state government ban foreign workers from being main cooks at hawker stalls.

Stating that the ban was only for hawker stalls and not restaurants, Lim said the move was to protect, preserve and promote the state’s top hawker food.

He added that such a proposal is also consistent with a ruling that states hawker stall licences are only to be given to Malaysian citizens and not foreigners.

Lim had also previously said that Penang would not ban foreigners from being the main cooks at hawker stalls if the feedback to the proposal is negative.

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