MTUC secretary-general J Solomon has warned that limiting foreign workers to the plantation, agricultural and construction sectors without a simultaneous increase in wages for local workers would be a disastrous move by the PN administration.
"MTUC firmly believes that the government may be committing harakiri on the economy by restricting foreign labour to just three sectors, in the hope to free up jobs for Malaysians who were laid off due to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The government’s tough stance on migrant labour seems to be predicated on the belief that locals would be willing and raring to take up 3D jobs and other work in the manufacturing and services sectors on the same terms and conditions as migrant workers.
"MTUC regards this notion as nothing more than a pipedream that ignores the reality on the ground," said Solomon in a statement today.
He said MTUC feedback showed that most Malaysians would only take up jobs vacated by foreigners if they were given a better deal in terms of salaries and benefits.
"This isn’t born out of any negative attitude on the part of the local workforce but simply based on their needs to sustain themselves and their families given the current high cost of living and the revised poverty line by the government," he added.
Solomon highlighted that many of the documented foreign workers in Malaysia were only paid the minimum wage or slightly above while perks such as mandatory rest days, overtime pay or medical benefits were rare and inadequate.
Worse off still were those without documents and who were hired illegally leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who paid them less than RM1,000 monthly, he added.
Solomon took to task Human Resources Minister M Saravanan and his deputy Awang Hashim for making the announcement on July 29 without any engagement with the main stakeholders.
"In the lead up to these two important announcements which marked a significant policy shift, Putrajaya did not engage MTUC nor the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) through the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) for their feedback, thereby showing itself as a government bent on repeating the transgressions of Pakatan Harapan.
Solomon (below) claimed that under Harapan, then minister M Kulasegaran had sidelined the NLAC and rammed through amendments to important labour laws such as the Industrial Relations Act.
Solomon's claim that stakeholders were not properly engaged prior to the policy announcement echoed that of Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Soh Thian Lai who similarly hit out over this matter on Saturday.
Soh said the FMM had always maintained that businesses were aware of the need to reduce dependency on foreign workers but any changes to the policies should be discussed with stakeholders, pre-announced and be gradual to allow companies adequate time to adjust.
He also said that in abruptly stopping the hiring of foreign workers, supply chains would be disrupted as local workers tended to avoid jobs with manufacturing processes that were more challenging despite the offer of higher wages.
"This would leave business sustainability and jobs at stake, even for local workers," Soh had said.
Solomon claimed that by simply asking Malaysians not to be choosy over jobs, politicians were merely exposing their ignorance over the plight of many Malaysians who struggled daily to make ends meet with their measly incomes even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Instead of making ad hoc announcements, first on the blanket freeze of foreign workers till year-end and subsequently limiting them to work in only three sectors, the ministry should have engaged the NLAC to find practical solutions to reduce the country’s over-dependence on migrant labour and to address rising unemployment among locals, he said.
"It is imperative that the government takes the lead to ensure fair and decent living wages for Malaysians as well as foreign workers, especially now that the poverty line income has been raised to RM2,208, a clear signal for the government to raise the minimum wage to a more realistic figure.
"The government’s continued failure to coax or compel employers to offer a better deal for local workers for jobs traditionally held by migrants will worsen the labour crunch as the restrictions on foreign workers take hold and locals remain unwilling to step in," added Solomon.
As such, he said MTUC urged Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to put on hold any moves to restrict foreign workers to the three sectors and order the Human Resources Ministry to carry out proper and meaningful discussions with the NLAC in accordance with the International Labour Organisation's Convention on tripartite consultation.