Crackdown on foreign workers hits M'sian businesses hard
KUALA LUMPUR - Rubber trees untapped, oil palm fruits left to rot and silent construction sites. These are the early consequences of the new Malaysian government’s aggressive crackdown on undocumented migrant workers that have left businesses reeling.
KUALA LUMPUR - Rubber trees untapped, oil palm fruits left to rot and silent construction sites.
These are the early consequences of the new Malaysian government’s aggressive crackdown on undocumented migrant workers that have left businesses reeling.
The crackdown on illegal foreign workers is one of the few policies from the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration that Pakatan Harapan (PH) is continuing.
PH blames the foreign worker recruitment industry and its ties to BN leaders for flooding the market with cheap labour.
But now, politicians and groups working with foreign workers are calling for a temporary halt to the campaign, dubbed Ops Mega 3.0. They claim even workers with valid work documents are being hauled up by the authorities.
Klang Member of Parliament (MP) Charles Santiago and the North-South Initiative (NSI) have criticised the way foreigners who are rounded up “are chained and marked like animals” by overzealous officers.
They said even those with passports and documents were chained together with the illegals and hauled off to Putrajaya for processing.
The manner of the raids, said the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), has led to lost productivity time as businesses grind to a stop while bosses travel to Putrajaya to secure their workers’ release.
“We’re not against enforcement but it has to be managed well. We’re getting complaints of legal workers being arrested.
“This affects operations, especially in the plantation and the construction sectors where many undocumented workers are employed,” said MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan.
Mr Santiago said the MEF and groups familiar with the issue had warned that these abuses would occur if the government persisted with the raids which began in January.
“Immigration officers should not treat migrant workers like animals, even if they are undocumented. These workers are the victims of the existing system in the country,” he said.
“Such abuse of power and blatant disregard for human dignity cannot continue.”
As part of its election manifesto, the PH government said it would gradually reduce the foreign worker population as part of an overall strategy to empower Malaysian workers and create one million quality jobs.
Ministers, such as Mr M Kula Segaran, said there will be “zero tolerance” against employers caught breaking foreign worker laws.
As a sign of how serious the administration was, Home Minister Muhiyddin Yassin accompanied an immigration raid in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, in late May.
In a July 9 statement, the Immigration Department said it had detained 22,126 undocumented foreign workers for a variety of offences between January 1 and July 7. Also detained were 585 employers.
These were among the 91,650 foreign workers inspected in 7,477 raids nationwide.
Indonesians topped the list of offenders at 7,327, Bangladeshis (4,482), Filipinos (2,237), Myanmar (2,188), while the rest came from other countries.
Of the more than 22,000 detained, 1,475 were arrested during Ops Mega 3.0.
MEF’s MR Shamsuddin said most of the businesses hit by the crackdown were micro-enterprises, which employed fewer than 10 workers.
Though small, they make up 73 per cent of all small and medium enterprises (SME). SMEs in turn represent 98 per cent of Malaysian companies.
These micro-businesses are rubber and oil palm estate owners mostly in Sabah and Sarawak, who cannot get local workers. In the construction sector, they are the small sub-contractors, such as plumbers and electricians, said Mr Shamsuddin.
Those undocumented workers not hauled up in the raids have gone into hiding, he said.
“In the plantation sector, it leads to fruits and trees not being harvested,” said National Smallholders Association president Aliasak Ambia.
He said about 49 per cent of 420,000 small rubber estates have been affected by the foreign worker shortage.
“These are good mature trees lying fallow because the owners do not have enough workers to tap them,” Mr Alias told The Malaysian Insight.
In the construction sector, developers will have to pay late fees because their projects are delayed due to the labour shortage, said Mr Shamsuddin.
“The construction industry typical employs about 400,000 documented foreign workers. But the number of illegals is about 800,000.”
The big construction firms generally follow the law. But it is the smaller “sub-sub contractors”, those at the bottom of the supply chain, who usually employed undocumented workers.
“They also use undocumented workers because they themselves may not have all the proper licences or because they cannot afford to pay the levy and the charges to hire legal ones,” said Mr Shamsuddin. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT
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