By Norshazlina Nor'azman
KUALA LUMPUR, (Bernama) -- While the government's plan to legalise the country's foreign workers without permits (PATI) have drawn criticism from social media users, trade unions and analysts describe it as a positive move.
They say the rehiring and relocation programme will help the authorities to determine the exact number of foreigners working illegally in this country, as well as monitor their activities more effectively.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had announced the programme when presenting the revised Budget 2016 on Jan 28, saying that it would enable illegal foreign workers to obtain valid work permits and help fulfil industry needs.
He said it would also enable the government to ascertain the number of PATI in the country for the purpose of monitoring security.
In November 2014, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem had revealed that there were some 6.7 million foreign workers in Malaysia. Out of that number, only 2.1 million possessed valid work permits and were registered with the Immigration Department.
MONITORING MIGRANT WORKERS
What sort of implications will the rehiring and relocation programme have on the country and the people?
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Deputy President Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid supported the programme, saying that it was necessary as it would enable the government to keep tabs on the foreign workforce in view of the rather huge number of PATI flooding the country.
"It's an effective way to regulate foreign workers as we can't go on having them entering our country boldly and working here without permits.
"With such a programme in place, the government will be able to determine the exact number of PATI and monitor their records and backgrounds. It will also enable the authorities to keep track of them should they be found involved in criminal activities... if this is not done, then we have failed as a nation that takes in foreign workers," he told Bernama.
Abdullah Sani, however, admitted that once the programme was implemented, problems would arise if foreigners were hired at the expense of their Malaysian counterparts.
"It's quite obvious that employers in some sectors prefer to hire foreigners due to various factors and we certainly don't want them to deny locals of job opportunities.
"In view of the current unemployment rate, it's not fair for foreigners to go all out to compete with Malaysians for jobs," he said, adding that he did not support the hiring of foreigners in the services sector as those jobs should only be reserved for Malaysians.
Pointing out that the government could not afford to take the PATI issue lightly, Abdullah Sani said the matter should be addressed in a firm and thorough manner before the situation worsened.
"To date, not a single person can tell us exactly how many foreigners are working in this country illegally because we don't have any data or records on them. Hence, it's difficult to detect their whereabouts... this is a serious matter," he said.
BOOST NATION'S INCOME
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak economics lecturer Prof Dr Shazali Abu Mansor, meanwhile, said the rehiring and relocation programme would not only serve as a means to ascertain PATI numbers and monitor them, it would also boost the nation's income.
"If this measure is not taken, those without permits will continue working illegally. By giving them all work permits, our government can reduce the intake of workers from other countries.
"And because PATI do not pay levy, there will be more income for the government in the form of levy when these illegal workers are legalised," said Shazali, who is attached to the university's Faculty of Economics and Business.
He, however, cautioned that the programme was open to abuse as foreigners could use it as an excuse to enter the country illegally.
"I'm worried that others (foreigners) may think it's okay for them to come into the country illegally as Malaysia is willing to accept them and legalise their status.
"The problem with us is that we're too dependent on foreign workers... Malaysia must come up with a policy to reduce their numbers and not accentuate their presence. So, when implementing the rehiring and relocation programme, the government should ensure that it would yield more advantages than disadvantages," he added.
LIMIT THEM TO CERTAIN SECTORS
Shazali suggested that the government formulate legislation to limit foreign workers to only the plantation and construction sectors and bar them from working in the services sector.
He said the government should, if possible, introduce a policy to make it compulsory for employers to allocate a certain quota of jobs to Malaysians during recruitment exercises, instead of hiring only foreigners.
This would ensure that Malaysians were not sidelined by employers who, said Shazali, were known to be partial to hiring foreigners simply because it entailed lower labour costs as they were paid smaller wages.
"In the services sector, for instance, foreigners are being hired as cashiers when these posts can be filled by Malaysians - the only thing is, the minimum RM900 salary is inadequate for them (locals). This is why there must be a change in policy... Malaysians want to take up those jobs but the pay is too low.
"To encourage employers in certain sectors to hire more Malaysians, the government can, perhaps, provide them incentives like tax reduction," said Shazali.
He added that in the long term, it would cut outflow of funds as fewer foreign workers would be remitting money to their home countries, as well as reduce the nation's dependence on foreign labour.