Pandemic response should reset addiction to foreign workers — Muthu Raj

SEPTEMBER 4 — The government has so far barred entry of foreign nationals from 12 countries as of Monday September 7, 2020, to prevent the influx of Covid-19 infections — this comes as a huge relief for all Malaysians because the biggest group who enter come from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Philippines as cheap labour.

The recent rounding up of undocumented migrants within Kuala Lumpur and ongoing operations against rat trails and illicit landings on isolated beaches are dangerous examples of just how much Malaysia remains at risk from imported Covid-19 infections.

Rich countries are already spending billions on Covid-19 vaccines — which may or may not be good enough to keep this pandemic from worsening — but poor countries where Malaysia typically gets foreign workers from aren’t all going to be able to afford these vaccines.

So the simplest solution is for Malaysia to just stop importing foreign workers. The recent directive to rehire foreign workers already within the country makes so much sense, but this policy doesn’t go far enough.

Everyone knows there’s a huge pool of Rohingya refugees here, many of whom are living off Malaysian taxpayer funds — instead of being allowed to work locally and pay taxes too! And there are thousands of undocumented migrants in immigration depots awaiting deportation — all at our expense. Send them back to work here and make them pay taxes and fares to return home.

This change in government policy not only saves on taxpayer funds, it also provides the necessary buffer for Malaysia to be totally rid of our addiction to cheap foreign labour. We’ve heard this mantra for decades, it’s time to actually make it a reality.

For starters, let’s look at where foreign labour seems to be most in need — plantations, construction, restaurants, security services and waste disposal, plus domestic help.

While mechanisation and now even drones have allowed wheat and barley-growing farmers abroad to keep production costs low, how come Malaysia still can’t despite its abundant plantations?

The answer lies in need — or lack of it. Why spend money on innovating more efficient machinery when there’s cheap foreign labour easily available? Problem is foreign labour isn’t really cheap — once you add up the extra costs plus inflated agency and regulatory fees.

This is the main reason why there are so many parties keenly exploiting foreign workers — from agencies in their home countries, medical checkups, documentation plus commissions — all this money amounts to billions, but produces no real value.

A recent example would be Bestinet Sdn Bhd, which has been wrapped in controversy over cheating Nepalis and even money-laundering — but there have been so many more agencies who have exploited foreign workers. Not to mention abuses they suffer from employers once they’ve arrived in Malaysia.

Imagine if these billions could have been channelled instead to innovating new machines for more efficient plantations. Local sales and exports of such machines could easily outperform even Proton!

The same arguments can apply to other sectors where cheap foreign labour dominates. And there’s also another reason, especially in the restaurant sector — Malaysians are really lazy people, we can’t even clean up after eating and we aspire to be a developed nation of people!

The Covid-19 pandemic has made many of us realise that we can no longer afford to be complacent as the global economic future continues to look bleak — unlike past major recessions where governments could spend their way out of trouble.

So let’s make a real start to ensuring Malaysians always come first for jobs in our own country while also working ourselves to truly become global champions — it’s time to be rid of our addiction to cheap foreign labour.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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