FEBRUARY 7 — Make it make sense: Malaysia keeps dithering between “don't let in foreign workers” to “hey, let's remedy the shortage of high-skilled workers with foreign talent.”
The country has never made substantial efforts to improve the conditions for jobs that typically required foreign labour.
No job security. No worker protections. No commensurate pay. Instead we hire from the most impoverished of countries, preying on the desperate.
How can anyone blame locals for not wanting to do construction work when at least a few times a year some labourer makes the news for being killed on the job?
Now instead of construction and agriculture, we are hearing that businesses can't wait anymore and we should instead allow high-skilled talent to enter to plug up the gaps.
It's ridiculous considering even neighbouring Singapore has become stricter about giving out employment passes, as well as reducing benefits for spouses and rationing visas.
Malaysians were much sought out by Singaporean employers in the past as they were seen as less demanding compared to locals.
Now, here we are where Malaysians are seen as “asking for too much” by local employers when for decades wages have been suppressed while salaries for CEOs have quite literally increased by a hundred fold.
We have plenty of graduates who, as a local economist rightfully pointed out, are underemployed.
No matter how much it looks good on statistics and charts, dear politicians, working with ridesharing platforms can't really be considered “employed”.
Year after year, employers bleat about how graduates aren't prepared for the workforce but the reality is simply that they are just reluctant to invest in training.
The solution is simple, just ask them to sign bonds. We send you for course A, we expect you to stick around for a couple of years or pay compensation.
Instead, it seems someone is trying to convince the government that saturating the entire market from top to bottom with cheaper foreign labour is the solution.
Yes, that's a solution for disaster.
From my own experience, while paper qualifications are nice, many jobs can only really be learned while you're actually doing them.
Practical training or internships? Let's be honest here, many workplaces just use interns as free or discount labour and all the students learn is how exploitative the corporate world can be.
If we don't do better by our workers by strengthening protections against them being replaced by computer applications or imported workers, what will our youngsters be looking forward to?
Fix the job market. Fix labour protections. Fix the underlying issues and the ridiculous wage gap that exists not just between the highest-paid and lowest but between genders.
Still it's not surprising that Malaysian politicians think our labour issues can be fixed like we “fix” our football teams by importing players.
We do not fix the brain drain by encouraging it or remedying it by bringing in foreign labour.
Malaysians are already among the most overworked in the world; they do not deserve to be undervalued by politicians who think labour is but a football game, to make substitutions as they like.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.