Monday, September 17, 2012

How To Survive Without Overly Depending On Foreign Workers?

In a nutshell Malaysia today is diseased from a glut of foreign workers especially those who work as general workers with little academic qualifications. This disease was inflicted upon us gradually since the 1980s when both business and domestic industries realized they could outsourced hard work to outsiders by which I mean foreigners who are desperate to earn a living and are willing to leave their homes and country to work in unfamiliar environment of a new society. It appear to be a win-win formula. But over the past two decades we've become addicted to them as millions swarmed our airports to seek greener pastures in our land, thousands of them, even 1-2 millions have become legal settlers after marrying local girls, getting citizenships and having families. Today it is an accepted feature anywhere in the larger cities and towns to see clusters of foreign workers walking the streets, chatting in malls, buying food and provisions in supermarkets, thronging the leisure parks on weekends and the cineplex. And in churches it is also unsurprising to see maids sitting with their employers and kids in the pews, some of them have become converted and enjoying the fellowship of other maids from other countries. Malaysia can 'proudly' claim to play host and home to at least 2 million foreign workers although statistics put the number as high as 10% of the total population, or almost 3 million. This doesn't include those in hiding or have disappeared into smaller towns and become mistresses of well to do landowners or businessmen who use them to do work. It is a win-win situation but in the long run the disease is going to hurt, as it is hurting other nations that is progressively overrun by alien culture and beliefs. Many of crimes committed are allegedly from foreigners. Eventually we will find increasing likelihood of having a foreigner neighbor. Already service providers are mostly foreigners. Yesterday while having lunch in a popular Chinese hawker centre in Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur, called Hutong, that serves popular Chinese dishes, servers are all from Indonesia. The security guards we bumped into are either Nepalese or Indonesians. Soon we will see Myanmese and Bangladeshis performing the same work. Filipinos and Cambodians are domestic maids and there are fewer Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese workers in these fields due to immigration restrictions. But they come out at night in glitzy joints working as GROs alongside their 'sisters' from Africa and Eastern European nations. Their presence certain change our tourism tag line, Malaysia Truly Asia, to Malaysia The World.

Recently the trend is starting to reverse. Several countries are reducing the numbers of their human exports into Malaysia. Indonesia have controlled their maids export and so have Cambodia and lately Philippines are following suit. Bangladesh is controlling their male workers from working in our plantation industry. Who can guess when Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal will do likewise to their male workers too. Even a reduction of 10% or 200,000 - 300,000 foreign workers in the plantation, construction, security and food industries will create havoc and affect our export competitiveness. Locals have shunned such jobs for the comfort and prestige of air conditioned and white collar atmosphere. But for a nation to have a balanced growth we need blue collar employees in equal or greater numbers. It will be tragic should the day come when we can no longer attract foreign workers because our pays are less attractive, paying more will make our products harder to sell internationally.

We've been without a maid for more than a year. Applications made failed to end with the arrival of our chosen maid as in the last moment she gave excuses why she couldn't leave. Could she be intercepted by other applicants with higher salaries or was her reason genuine? Living without a maid is not an option in the long run but looking at how other countries have worked around this problem we must emulate and avoid over dependence on foreigners. They are good for awhile but they cannot be taken for granted. Like tenants they come and go. Malaysia aspire to be a developed high income nation. This status must include a system of child and senior care that is supported not by foreigners but locals who must find this work a dignified and important contribution to society. In businesses the standard reaction is that of automation which is possible where machinery are being used. But it is harder in plantation and construction industries that are labor intensive and harder to automate most of the processes of harvesting, transporting, milling, mixing and sorting. We are still highly dependent on palm oil and rubber exports. How will a shortage of foreign workers there hurt us?

The clock is already ticking. Within 10 years we must have in place an alternative programme to relieve the exodus of foreign workers homeward to survive the future. Are our people resilient and willing?

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