Sunday, February 14, 2016

Zahid Hamidi and his Bangladeshis

I am extremely disappointed with the way our Government handles its communications. We have a million people in civil service and every single Ministry has a corporate communications unit.

No one stepped up to help explain about this 1.5 million Bangladeshis issue and left the Deputy Prime Minister alone in this mess.

All sorts of allegations and questions are being thrown at the Government recently:

(a) BN wants to bring in 1.5 mil Bangladeshis for GE14
(b) Why 1.5 million? Where did this number come from?
(b) Government doesn’t care about providing jobs for locals

Let us spend some time to discuss them.

(a) 1.5 mil Bangladeshis for GE14?

GE14 is about 24 months away. We are talking about 1.5 million Bangladeshis here.

There are about 6 flights between Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur, serviced either by an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737 with 180 seats in each plane. 

Assuming that the Government reserves all the seats in the 6 flights and tell the rest of the commercial passengers to take the sampan instead, that's 1,080 Bangladeshis a day and it takes 4 years for the entire 1.5 million to reach our shores.

And please, 1.5 million Bangladeshis to rig the electoral roll of which seats in Peninsular Malaysia? We are talking about bringing in extremely visible and noticeable humans, nearly twice the population of Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya combined, not hamsters.

(b) Why 1.5 million? Where did this number come from?

I am disappointed that none of the industry associations stood up to defend the Government. Every year, you knock on the doors of Ministers and Ministry officials to complain about shortage of workers and you want the Government to open the flood gates to bring in foreign workers.

Now that the Government is being criticized for helping you, you chose to stay silent?

The Government has no agenda or interest at all for bringing in foreign workers. I can assure you this.

The entire 1.5 million is based on industry demands over a certain period. Not the whole lot of 1.5 million Bangladeshis are coming in tomorrow morning on a Boeing plane.

And the 1.5 million workers are most certainly not just to top up the existing pool of foreign workers that we have here already. Most of them, I believe, are to replace those who have to return to their home country annually, either by choice or because of regulations.

Take the oil palm industry for example. It is an extremely labor intensive sector. Did you know that there are over 400,000 workers in the upstream sector where 24% are locals and 76% are foreign workers?

In 2013 alone, the oil palm sector applied for permits to bring in 65,000 foreign workers via the Home Ministry. A majority of them were brought in to replace the outgoing pool of foreign workers at that time.

And every year, the plantation companies submit labour requirements statistics to the Government and we are always short of 30,000 workers. Yes, till today.

This is just the oil palm upstream industry. I've not even touched other sectors such as the domestic services, construction, manufacturing, food eateries, cleaning services etc.

Imagine the number of foreign workers that are leaving our country every year which require replacement. Yes, hold that thought and understand that these are the number of foreign workers that industry associations want the Government to help bring in.

(c) Government doesn’t care about providing jobs for locals?

Never in my 5 years of working in Government, have I ever missed a single year of complaints from industry captains in sectors that I cover - from upstream plantations to downstream manufacturing.

The truth is, Government has always been making it difficult for our local industries to hire foreign workers.

The Government adopts a three-pronged strategy for this.

First, through incentives to automate. MIDA provides a 200% capital allowance on automation expenditure to high labour-intensive industries.

Second, by making it expensive to bring in a foreign worker or maid with those levies, visa payments, security bonds, provision of housing and insurance etc.

Third, through fixed ratios of 1 local worker to 3 foreign workers or 1 foreign worker to a specified area

For oil palm plantations, it used to be about 1 foreign worker to 8 or 10 hectares. I am not so sure what it is now. You can't just simply bring in any number of workers that you want.

For manufacturing, I know that the Government regulation was 1 local worker to 3 foreign workers. One cannot simply just hire foreign workers without providing jobs for locals also.

In fact, before the employer is allowed to bring in a foreign worker, the employer must first made the job offer available to locals first via the Job Clearing System or Jobs Malaysia.

Every employer knows this. It is stated clearly on the Home Ministry's website:

Sebelum membuat permohonan pengambilan pekerja asing, majikan perlu mendapatkan perakuan daripada Jabatan Tenaga Kerja Semenanjung Malaysia (JTKSM) yang mengesahkan bahawa majikan telah menggunakan perkhidmatan Job Clearing System (JCS) / Jobs Malaysia untuk mendapatkan pekerja tempatan.

So, if any of you yourself or you want your kids to clean tables and plates, pick up oil palm fruits, tap the rubber tree, clean the washroom, work at the production lines and others, please my dear, don't waste your time attacking Zahid or the Government on Twitter and Facebook. Just go to any Jobs Malaysia or Jabatan Tenaga Kerja's office and apply for it.

As for me, I prefer to see my fellow Malaysians move up a notch with greater ambition in the labor market. I want to see my fellow Malaysians as administrative and legal clerks, as teachers, as lawyers, engineers and accountants, as executives and managers.

And I hope the industry associations start to find their voice again on this foreign workers issue. Or if Tan Sri Apandi gives the green light, do you want the Government to divulge the specific requests for foreign workers by each and every one of you?

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