I refer to the challenge issued by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that Malaysian youths should take up jobs deemed dirty, difficult and dangerous if they do not want more foreign workers coming to this country.
I believe his challenge was a respond to the critics who claim foreign workers will do the jobs Malaysians don’t want to.
Having this in mind the critics want us to believe, for example, that a group of unemployed graduates would love to construct houses clean up drains, clear rubbish and work in farms for a few hundreds of ringgit a month.
Say if employers could have paid higher wages to these graduates to get the 3D jobs done, the losses would presumably have been even greater.
Or if higher wages were offered to do the 3D jobs, many of the jobs would not exist in the first place.
I agree with Urban Wellb-eing, Housing and Local Government Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan in his Twitter update recently when he asked if Malaysians were willing to accept the higher cost and prices that would come if locals who demand to be paid higher wages were to replace foreign workers.
Rahman’s question was valid. Consider this. If you shop at the mall, do you avoid the every expensive stores and expensive items and instead look for good sales discounts? Or when you want to buy a house, do you look for an expensive house or ask a higher price than the seller is asking?
The point is, if a foreign worker is willing to work for a low wage and he is productive enough, it only makes sense to choose the lower labour cost.
Lower labour cost means lower the prices of goods and services for our consumers.
We all make the same decisions on a daily basis when we shop for goods and services. So, I cannot understand how this is a problem?
Willingness and reliable labour are really hard to come by.
For example, finding local workers who are willing to work night and weekend shifts is still difficult. Let alone finding local workers to work in construction sites for hours under the hot sun!
There exists a market demand for low-skilled cheap labour and today, this demand is willingly being met and satisfied at the low cost, with the employment of foreign workers.
At obvious disadvantages with natives
When they come to work here, they are at obvious disadvantages compared with the natives. The only advantage is the ability to adapt and willing to work for low wages than the natives.
If this is not the case, then why do we think some employers are willing to pay thousands of ringgit to bring foreign workers into this country legally, if not because they are willing to do the 3D jobs for less?
Why do we think some employers are willing to risk their businesses (if they get caught) because they hire foreign workers illegally and yet, they volunteer to legalise their foreign workers (6P legalisation and rehiring programme) by paying the government thousands of ringgit more, if not because their workers are willing to do the 3D jobs for less?
What I mean by “for less” is a worker making a low wage in a high-cost country like Malaysia may actually have a better standard of living than making a low wage in a low-cost country like Bangladesh.
Another question remains: why all the mad rush for 1.5 million foreign workers?
I believe the answer lies in the demand from the economic sectors, such as construction, housing, infrastructure and plantation, which I think are also associated with government spending activities.
It is true the private sector demands foreign workers, but it is fair to ask who puts the private sector in this path, if it is not the government, right?
For example, who is going to build one million affordable houses and other mega projects under the 11th Malaysia Plan, if not the foreign workers?
Last November, Sarawak Building and Civil Engineering Contractors Association chairperson Andy Lai said more foreign construction workers would be needed to support the manpower demand for the Pan-Borneo Highway project.
Just recently, Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing decided not to take Bangladeshi workers as they cannot meet physical demands for plantation sector jobs in Sarawak and he is now scouting for workers from other countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
Certainly, this misallocation of labour during the boom phase of the business cycle is the reason why we are seeing the need for mass foreign workers to fill in the gap. But besides that point, for the sake of argument, let's say the presence of foreign workers does help ease labour shortages in some areas of economy.
At the end of the day, the reason is simple. Since labour is factor of production, if we can allow all other factors to freely cross border, why stop the willing labour for 3D jobs?
MEDECCI LINEIL is with the Institute for Leadership and Development Studies, a new think-tank established to promote alternative policies and nationhood practice based on the market system.