Time to prioritise jobs over politics

JANUARY 16 — Jobs are not the sole responsibility of governments — to procure or protect — but they’d be blamed if jobs disappear.

So, ours better act or risk a public lynching, considering the public mood now.

Undeniably, employment is central to voters, it forms their economic-security and in many cases, their sense of purpose.

But far exceedingly truer which leads to this examination of leadership in relations to employment, votes are central for government survival.

Which explains why employment figures stress out governments worldwide [N1], not the least ours.

Malaysia’s expected rise of overall unemployment, when read together with graduates’ joblessness [N2] in size and duration, is damning.

Leadership to build jobs involves all political parties, in and out of power. While initiatives are expected from Pakatan Harapan, the Opposition, Barisan Nasional can interfere with legislation and policy implementation.

Unless and if both sides choose to handle “job” decisions as above politics, matters are likely to deteriorate rapidly. Standoffs and prolonged dramas only harm everyday Malaysians.

The following elements require leadership responses, failing which, the consequences will be dire.

Foreign parts

According to the United Nations, in 2017, documented foreign workers are two million, and joined possibly by up to four million undocumented.

That’s the scale of the foreign workers’ challenge. A large portion of our labour force being foreign.

For decades, the mantra was to replace cost anxieties with foreign workers under the guise locals don’t need menial jobs. That’s becoming less true, by the day.

At the same time, foreigners are steadily filling up white collar work as industry liberalisations, borderless work and informal economies turn lifetime employment on its head. Without elaborate structures, it’s impossible to monitor.

“Graphic designers, not the night security. Bar managers, not the cleaning crew,” a friend forewarned.

Meanwhile, the government as a response has a “holistic” policy with modest goals to cut foreign workers. Yet, the government must be aware, after three decades of unfettered inclusion of foreign workers, their presence has been institutionalised.

A move away from foreign workers in any industry would be painful, and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s “holistic” plan must accept a willingness to hurt friends and not merely window-dress.

Employers use terms like reliability, willingness and wage ceilings, but refuse to acknowledge it is pain avoidance which drives them to defend the status quo.

Employers are key to lower foreign workers. In both blue- and white-collar jobs.

Government must cajole them, and if need be, force them. A firmness foreign during ex-home minister Zahid Hamidi’s time has to be found to partner employers and navigate them to think of Malaysian interests as much as business interests.

Spending our way to work

There’s RM6.5 billion this year to up jobs in #KerjaMalaysia.

This is the programme to pass financial incentives to employees and employers. Detractors point out the measure’s short-termism. This column shares their concerns.

The funding is extensive but one has to be careful in assuming subsidising salaries would ensure the seamless entry of otherwise unemployable young Malaysians into the workforce for good.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appointed ex-minister Mustapa Mohamed as Teraju — the Bumiputera entrepreneurship vehicle — chairman. 

The prime minister has always utilised state spending to bolster party unity cum discipline, rather than direct it to for purpose and remain politically agnostic.

Let’s hope the new Bersatu Pribumi member’s leadership of programmes like Teras, Superb, Yayasan Peneraju, Dana Mudahcara and Jejak Jaya invigorates Bumiputera companies to success rather than accruements for owners, which barely generate jobs.

Government grants which generate wealth for a class without raising jobs for the masses are betrayals of public faith.

There was an ill-fitted belief that the existence of rich companies solely from state protection and payments would naturally result in more employment within those companies. It has been found wanting.

Multipliers are conditional.

Government must spend as one does placing fire-starters in a barbeque pit. There’d be no fire otherwise.

But government has to ascertain if they are placed in the right spots, and more important if the charcoal’s combustible.

Rationalise number of unis, spots and programmes

The results will only be visible over time, if they are cut. There are too many public universities with low return on investment (ROI) for the institution and the students.

What frustrates a twenty-four-year-old being unemployed? At the same time asked to service the student loan debt, even after two years in matriculation/certification/diploma and another four to earn a degree.

Broke, bad.

Broke graduate with student debt, and no salary for the six years in campus, sucks majorly!

Government must brave public opinion and shut down programmes and even possibly universities with low performances.

It’s not only the cost of running the universities, but the years stolen from Malaysians who may have benefitted better from industry training direct out from secondary school.

Losing vital years to receive poorly regarded qualifications because politicians want to boast about national graduate ratios is a cruel way to produce impressive charts.

Tourism & Business Central via Apec

The New York Times listed Chow Kit in its 52 must-see places in the world. Fascinating as the choice appears, long-time favourite Sabah was also listed. Ipoh was in Lonely Planet’s 2017’s must visit Asia stop. Penang, Langkawi, Perhentian, Mulu Caves, Carey Island and the names go on.

Malaysia is tropical and outside the Ring of Fire. It rains and shines delightfully.

The value proposition is phenomenal. Both from drawing tourists and international businesses aching for a new home.

Both options generate jobs. Unfortunately, this is not leveraged adequately. But the opportunity is ajar.

Till November up to 16,000 delegates are incoming for 120 Apec meetings, peaking with the leaders’ summit at year-end which includes the US, Chinese, Russia and Australia. These are spectacular chances to display our ability to be short-term and long-term hosts for tourists and businesses.

Our competency to host beyond 2020, tourists and businesses.

Truth to our homeys

While leaders intimate the need for a “switched-on” culture, whether in serving tables or designing tables, there has not been a philosophical construction of the modern Malaysian in a competitive world.

Hard work pays and the desire to connect with the world rather than demand the world see things our way, should be etched in our daily conversations, and in the school halls weekly.

This is difficult to frame exactly, since it is about our raison d’être.

It’s tiring to hear about how all the winning or enduring qualities displayed by other cultures are “just-not-us.”

The idea Malaysians can’t hustle, mix it up and challenge for success demeans.

The journey is likely long, but it’s time we got on the ride.

Don’t blowhard when it’s about jobs

It’s time to also calculate the number of issues debated and discussed through Parliament, Cabinet and top-government offices on jobs.

At times, management is not rocket-science.

If this administration postulates that all government discussion has to be one-third related to jobs, their creation or maintenance, then perhaps it won’t be just another matter for the agenda. It becomes a constant agenda.

And often, the gumption and ability to solve a problem is about prioritising it.

[N1] Stress-inflaming because other than the vagaries of global trade and connectivity relocating jobs — bane for losing country, win for gaining country and bonuses for companies’ top executives — there’s the reality of automation and artificial intelligence ending vocations. Upping global unemployment.

[N2] At 200,000 graduates (60 per cent) being unemployed for more than a year. Youth unemployment is above 10 per cent.

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