Foreign Workers: Need For A Comprehensive Long Term Policy

FRIDAY, 20 APRIL 2012 00:00

By: Rejal Arbee
Pix Ahmad Shiddan Saidi

BANGI, 20 April 2012 – Malaysia needs to put in place a long term and comprehensive policy on foreign workers if it was serious in meeting the various problems now attributed to their presence in the country.

Prof Dr Azizah Kassim from the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas) of The National University of Malaysia (UKM) made the suggestion in her public lecture on “Malaysia’s Policy on Foreign Workers: the Need for a Paradigm Shift” at the Chancellory here today.

She said the country could no longer depend on short term measures and policies that keep on changing which have actually compounded problems related to their presence here rather than addressing them.

She gave a comprehensive overview of the problem and the challenges being faced arising from their ever increasing numbers here that have brought about socio-cultural, economic, security and political issues.

Giving figures which show the seriousness of the problem, she said, it will not go away but will in fact become worse if the government cannot come up with a real comprehensive solution.

The ac hoc and reactive actions being taken will not do to really resolve the problem especially with the ever changing policies that at times have worsen it rather than decreasing their numbers.

She said measures such as regularisation exercises, amnesties, patrolling of the border areas, detentions and expulsions were not enough to overcome the problem.

All the sources and areas which bring about their increasing number in the country will have to be looked at seriously including the high cost of their recruitment following its commercialisation when it would have been much less if the recruitment was done through their social and family networks which could also ensure their better wellbeing while also addressing the employers’ interests.

Prof Azizah said there is an urgent need for the authorities to put in place the comprehentive policy as the country’s need for the foreign workers will in fact increase with time.

Though there had been greater incidence of mechanisations and automation in some sectors of the industry to increase productivity and to be less dependent on foreign workers, there were other sectors which just could not automate like in the care of babies, children and the elderly.

Malaysia aims to be a high income developed nation and will thus continue to require foreign workers.

Since the present policy has given rise to a lot of problems the government needed to find solutions on how to be less dependent on them, she said.

And she was not confident that the two pronged proposal made in the New Economic Model can address the situation. The suggestion for a common labour standards for domestic and foreign labour maybe feasible in the long term but she questioned the imposition of levies as a measure to increase competency and reduce their numbers.

She said a levy had already been imposed on employers since April 2010 but there had been weaknesses in its implementation with employers flouting them and some even forcing deductions from their workers’ salaries to meet the levy imposed.

Prof Azizah also questioned the selective enforcement of the various regulations which have actually made them to be ineffective.

She also brought up the question of the rights of the workers which Malaysia has a duty to uphold.

She feels that Malaysia would not be able to resolve the issue on its own as it needed the cooperation of the workers’ countries of origin.
Considering that a majority of them come from the neighbouring countries the best forum to discuss the issue is at the ASEAN level, Prof Azizah said.