November 02, 2008 14:08 PM
By Sajad Hussein
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 (Bernama) -- With the world economy plummeting, there is fear that more Malaysians abroad will be jobless and may head home, thus putting pressure on the already tight job market here.
Malaysians working in Singapore are the first to feel the heat and are returning home because they have been retrenched. Workers from other countries may be coming home soon as the economic situation gets worse.
The job market here is now loaded with some 2.1 million legal foreigners which was about 20 per cent of the total workforce, and unless some of these workers are "off loaded", it would be difficult for those returning Malaysians to get jobs.
This problem is compounded by hundreds of illegal foreign workers who are eyeing the same jobs.
No one has any statistics on illegals but the labour unions have estimated that for every legal worker there is one illegal. Whatever the figures, the presence of illegals in Malaysia is a fact.
The situation is rather serious in that out of the 252,600 new jobs created in the country each year almost 45 per cent went to foreigners.
The government, realising the gravity of the problem, is aiming to reduce the foreigners.
According to Human Resources Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Thomas George, the government intended to reduce the number of foreign workers to 1.5 million by 2015.
Towards this end, the government was working with all stakeholders, employers, workers and their trade unions to find an amicable solution, he said.
The Labour Department in particular has taken a pro-active role and is working hard to negate this problem before it gets out of hand.
Its Director-General, Datuk Ismail Abdul Rahim, said a special committee had been formed at the national level to liaise with employers to identify vacancies.
He said that at present Johor seemed to be most affected because Malaysians working in Singapore were starting to be retrenched and were heading home looking for jobs.
The good news was that there were some 2,500 vacant jobs waiting for these returnees and they could register themselves with the Labour Department to get a job.
Ismail, however, advised the returnees and other jobless Malaysians, particularly the youths, not to be choosy and to take whatever job available.
Ismail said it was the government's policy now to give top priority to Malaysians for jobs.
However, this was easier said than done, said Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general, G. Rajasekaran.
He said employers had found numerous ways to circumvent the policy and preferred foreigners.
For example, he said, many Malaysians were keen to work as croupiers in the casino in Genting Highlands and yet the management preferred foreigners. There were about 450 foreigners working there now.
Rajasekaran said there were many reasons why employers preferred foreigners, among them were that foreigners worked for lesser wages and were willing to work long hours in poor work conditions without much benefits.
Moreover, in cases where they employed illegals, they could easily blackmail and exploit them with very inhuman work conditions.
The next key question that begs to be answered is how to change the preference of local employers and get them to provide better wages and work conditions to attract locals.
Rajasekaran said legislation could be used and Malaysia had adequate laws to protect workers but the biggest obstacle was enforcement.
The Labour Immigration departments did their best, but they did not have the required manpower to fully implement and enforce the relevant laws and this lack of proper enforcement is one of the key reasons employers keep hiring foreigners and discriminating locals.
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