THE recruitment of foreign unskilled workers has become a terrible addiction in the country.
About two years or so, the recruitment of foreign workers was stopped mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Given the acute demand for cheap and docile labour, the government has decided to recruit foreigners for some of the critical sectors such as plantation, services and manufacturing.
It is may be true to some extent that Malaysians are not prepared to take on jobs that are considered dirty, dangerous and demanding.
The question is, why should Malaysians work in these sectors under forced labour conditions.
It is unfortunate that the government talks about taking steps to end forced labour but by allowing the inflow of cheap labour, the conditions of forced labour are perpetuated.
Malaysia will never be able to address the problem of forced labour unless and until labour conditions improve in the country.
But with the recent decision to recruit foreign workers, especially cheap and docile labour, it would be hypocrisy to talk about ending forced labour.
In this respect, Malaysia must be prepared for the United States and other countries to ban more goods from sectors that employ foreign labour.
Even if the government wants to address the serious problem of worker shortage, there is nothing in the way that prevents it from taking steps to reduce foreign labour in the country.
Maybe during the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers might have returned to their respective countries.
Many of them might not come back at all.
But chances are that new workers may be recruited with the signing of memorandums of understanding (MOUs), beginning with Bangladesh soon.
The pandemic provided an opportune chance for the country to finally take steps to reduce the burden of foreign labour.
With the new recruitment drive, the golden opportunity is going to be lost.
It is not that the move to recruit foreign workers is based on demand and supply.
Demand may be there, whether real or otherwise. This remains to be seen.
But the real forces that are behind the recruitment are the numerous agencies in Malaysia and other countries that engage with one another to provide the flow of labour.
It is a common knowledge that those who were responsible for the recruitment of foreign workers are high-ranking politicians in the government.
It is these politicians who set up recruitment agencies with the involvement of their relatives and friends to conjure an image of labour shortage.
In other words, to create an artificial labour shortage with the ultimate aim of making hefty profits.
The government is not naive in agreeing to allow foreign labour recruitment on the basis of worker shortage.
Shortage of labour may even be an excuse to enable politicians and their cronies to make huge profits in the recruitment process.
The MOUs in the labour recruitment are merely government endorsements.
The ties between the recruitment agencies and the host countries are invariably in the hands of the dodgy politicians and their cronies.
It is not that Human Resources Ministry or its minister M. Saravanan does not understand the politics behind the recruitment drive.
Saravanan might appear as hardworking minister concerned with labour shortage, but he is in no position to dictate terms in the cabinet.
The big boys in Bersatu, Umno and PAS might be calling the shots in asking for foreign labour recruitment.
Tons of money are waiting to be made by bringing in foreign workers.
It is nonsensical to talk about talent building in the country when there is a renewed emphasis on the need for cheap and docile foreign labour.
I wonder how such a labour force is going to create values in the production process.
Absolute exploitation will be the order of the day.
Creation of talent so crucial in Malaysia making the transition from a middle income to high income economy will be seriously impaired.
I thought that the pandemic created an opportunity to reduce cheap foreign labour in the country. How wrong I was.
In fact, the pandemic has functioned to allow more foreign labour in the country.
Thus, if Malaysia stagnates economically, who are we to blame? – December 11, 2021.
* P. Ramasamy is Penang deputy chief minister II.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.