MTUC: Putrajaya committing economic suicide with migrant worker curbs amid suppressed local pay

Ben Tan
·4-min read
Many documented foreign workers in Malaysia are paid the minimum wage or slightly above while perks such as mandatory rest days, overtime or medical benefits are rare and inadequate.  ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Many documented foreign workers in Malaysia are paid the minimum wage or slightly above while perks such as mandatory rest days, overtime or medical benefits are rare and inadequate. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government was dooming the economy by restricting migrant workers to three sectors in an attempt to create job opportunities for locals.

MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon described this as “committing hara-kiri on the economy” as he said the plan was not accompanied by any measure to address stagnant local wages that have been suppressed for decades.

Solomon said the move to restrict migrant labourers to the construction, agricultural and plantation sectors would not motivate Malaysians to take up the “dangerous, dirty and difficult (3D)” work that the former group performed unless pay levels increase significantly.

“MTUC regards this notion as nothing more than a pipe dream that ignores the reality on the ground.

“Our feedback shows most Malaysians will only take up jobs vacated by foreigners if they are given a better deal in terms of salaries and benefits,” said Solomon in a statement here today.

Solomon insisted that this was not a matter of poor attitudes among Malaysians but simply a fact of life that a living wage was necessary to sustain a household with rising prices in the country.

He also noted that the government was revising the poverty line to reflect this new reality.

“Many of the documented foreign workers in Malaysia are paid the minimum wage or slightly above while perks such as mandatory rest days, overtime or medical benefits are rare and inadequate. Those without documents and hired illegally fare far worse with unscrupulous employers paying them less than RM1,000 monthly.

“As such, it is disappointing to note that neither Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan nor his deputy Awang Hashim has yet to announce any move or even desire to address this important ‘bread and butter’ issue in their zeal to push through the government’s agenda to drastically reduce foreign workers in key sectors of the economy,” said Solomon.

In the Dewan Rakyat last Wednesday, the minister announced that migrant labourers were restricted to the three sectors as part of the government’s plan to reduce the influx of foreign workers.

This was in addition to an earlier move to freeze the intake of foreign workers until the end of the year.

Solomon said that in both instances, Putrajaya did not engage relevant stakeholders such as the MTUC and the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) through the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) despite the significance of the announcement.

He pointed out that the ministry under the new Perikatan Nasional government was repeating the same missteps of the previous Pakatan Harapan administration in its refusal to engage.

“Despite being equal partners with the ministry in the NLAC, MTUC and MEF were not consulted for their feedback prior to the government’s move to curtail the use of foreign labour in Malaysia.

“The move by the ministry to blank out the NLAC over such an important issue is in breach of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 144 Tripartite Consultation.

“As such, we are disappointed that this particular ILO convention which Malaysia is a signatory, continues to be ignored by the present government in its haste to draw up new policies which will impact millions of workers,” said Solomon.

He added that the ministry will also have to deal with the resulting labour shortage from its policy decisions, which will hamper businesses — particularly small-medium enterprises — that were already struggling for survival due to measures enforced to contain Covid-19.

Solomon said that while it superficially appeared that there were many jobless Malaysians that could fill the vacancies caused by the two policies, it was unreasonable to expect locals to survive on the same pay given to the migrant labourers.

Official data showed that over 800,000 Malaysians in the workforce became unemployed as of May.

“Indeed, as things stand, the ministry seems perfectly willing to allow employers to hire local workers on the same terms and conditions offered to migrant workers.

“While the high cost of living and harsh realities of life may force some Malaysians to accept the same paltry salary offered to foreign workers, it would be inhumane for the government to expect Malaysian workers to support their households on a monthly income of around RM1,200, or even RM2,000 especially in cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed,” said Solomon.

Malaysia was now paying the price for its inability to climb up the global value chain that has allowed countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea to develop and invest in their human capital, he said.

Solomon said the MTUC was also urging Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to delay the migrant labour restrictions pending consultations with the industry players in accordance with the ILO Convention 144.

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