Sunday, October 17

Sarawak Business Federation all for recruitment of foreign workers

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Jonathan Chai

KUCHING (Dec 26): The Sarawak Business Federation welcomes the state government’s decision in allowing the recruitment of foreign workers effective from Jan 1 next year to address the state’s economic requirements.

The federation’s secretary-general Jonathan Chai said the oil palm plantations in the state, for example, were estimated to be facing a shortage of 40,000 workers and causing the industry to incur an estimated annual revenue loss of RM2.15 billion.

“Of course, the employers are expected to strictly observe all standard operating procedure (in regard to foreign workers’ recruitment) which have been put in place by the State Disaster Management Committee in the interest of the general public,” said Chai when commenting on the state government’s latest decision.

With the issuance of work permits to foreign workers, Chai said it would also assist the government to carry out contact tracing should there be any outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic among foreign workers.

“As it is, a lot of those workers are without any valid permits and they came in through various illegal pathways, also known as ‘jalan tikus’ near the borders.”

Aside from the danger of forming clusters of the Covid-19 infection, Chai opined it could also pose security problems to the state if the foreigners cross the border illegally without any immigration clearance.

Although the local workforce remains as the first choice of labour supply, Chai remarked such was not the situation on the ground in many cases as locals tend to avoid jobs that were considered as ‘dirty, dangerous and difficult’, which would then be taken up by foreign workers.

Generally, Chai said the local workforce preferred to work in the service industry and in cities, rather than in the plantation, construction and manufacturing sectors.

“In fact, it’s the policy of our government to curb the influx of foreign workers in the long run and the business operators have been encouraged to transform and upgrade the mode of business operations with more input from technology.”

As it is, Chai said certain industries, such as the logistics and manufacturing sectors, were already turning to automated machines or robotics to reduce its dependency on foreign labour and to boost productivity and cost efficiency.

“But as at this juncture, the functions of such machines are still limited and they are still unable to totally eliminate the dependence on foreign workers in these industries.”

He explained the construction and plantation industries were still very much labour-intensive and the estimated annual revenue loss faced by the oil palm industry due to labour shortage is expected to cause the government a loss of RM466 million in taxation.

“With the recent surge in the price of palm oil, it’s timely and even more important for the government to allow for the recruitment of the foreign workers sooner so to allow our plantation owners to profit from the windfalls,” said Chai.