22 January, 2008

Is Malaysia truly Asia?

A popular advertising campaign refers to Malaysia as ‘Truly Asia’, but the Malaysian government’s plan to send home up to five lakh foreign workers by 2009, to hire locals, may not only be unconstitutional but also spoil its tourist friendly image. writes Devesh, Merinews.

THE GOVERNMENT has decided to apply stricter standards for the hiring of foreign labour in Malaysia in order to reduce the number of non-Malaysian workers to 1.8 million by next year and to 1.5 million by 2015. Malaysia relies on foreign labourers for all the menial work, as it is one of the largest labour intensive markets in Southeast Asia. Foreigners make up more than two million of the work force of 11 million of Malaysia. Thus, almost one fifth of the work force is currently non-Malaysian.

Raja Azahar Raja, the home affairs secretary general was quoted as saying, “We have been lax with the ruling to allow employers to cut costs with cheaper foreign labour but now, they have to turn to locals and pay a reasonable salary based on supply and demand.”

Raja also said that the government would allow skilled workers to stay for up to 10 years, but would not extend the permits of unskilled foreign workers who have been in the country for at least five years. This measure is going to cut the number of foreign labour by about 200,000 this year. There is no limit to the length of stay for foreign maids but the ministry may raise the eligibility of employers, allowing only those who pay more than 5,000 ringgit a month to hire maids, compared to the current minimum of 3,000 ringgit.

In fact, the construction, manufacturing and plantation sectors would be exempt from these measures, because Malaysians do not want to work in these areas. For industries like the service industry and agriculture, the Malaysian government is expected to come down hard. The ministry also plans to increase the strength of its 1,500-member enforcement team for monitoring foreign labour to 5,000 officers

Cracking its whip on foreign workers, the Malaysian government had recently banned major foreign labour, which is being used at airports and hotels in an effort to ensure that tourists were greeted by Malaysian faces on arrival. There have been complaints from labour unions that Malaysian workers have been deprived of jobs because employers preferred to recruit cheaper foreign labour. But, some employers have said that local workers are unreliable.

Malaysia’s efforts to increase work being offered to ‘bhoomi putras’ or ‘sons of its soil’ should not be encouraged. The resident Malaysians already enjoy a comprehensive system of reservations. This ‘new economic policy’, had its share of criticism regarding its constitutional validity. There are quotas in educational institutions, public sector, government jobs and compulsory equity ownership in business. Almost 10 per cent of the Malaysian population is made up of ethnic Indians, most of whom are Tamil speaking Hindus.

The Indian Diaspora organisations should try and safeguard the interests of the ethnic Indians and enhance their capabilities and skills in order to increase its socio economic position. The affirmation policy and the marginalisation of the ethnic Indian minorities has become a cause for concern for the Indian government as well.

Malaysia has failed to realise that its public image in India has suffered a severe setback. It will also make it tougher for the Indian government to make concessions in negotiations over trade and investment. Malaysia’s treatment of the foreign minority groups has become a cause of concern all over Asia and will have a definite impact on its foreign policy.



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