Hindraf's myopic view on foreign workers

Ronald Benjamin


LETTER | The statement by Hindraf 2.0 that it wants Putrajaya to reconsider its decision to reintroduce the foreign workers placement scheme, claiming that this would come at the expense of job opportunities for poor Indians, seems to be myopic and ethnically inclined, rather than addressing issues of foreign workers in this country through a structural context.

It is irrational to address the issue of employment opportunities on a single policy related to foreign workers, when a comprehensive industrial policy related to human capital development and technology is vital to address the overdependency on foreign workers.

The foreign worker replacement scheme, which was suspended in 2017, was introduced due to the persistent complaints about labour shortage. Under this scheme, companies can apply for a replacement once it is confirmed their old foreign staff have left the country, instead of having to start a new application.

There is no issue with this scheme by itself, unless it is abused to recruit more foreign workers in this country. NGOs such as Tenaganita have suggested utilising foreign workers who are already in Malaysia and who have registered under the rehiring programme, which makes more sense. 

Nevertheless, the government’s decision was a practical response that is needed for an issue that has national economic ramifications.

The real issue here is not about a particular community being sidelined, but a social economic structure that is unbalanced and tilted towards the capitalists.

For example, according to Bank Negara’s 2018 annual report, Malaysian workers receive lower compensations relative to their contribution to national income from productivity and equity perspectives.

Citing an example, if a Malaysian worker produces output worth US$1,000, he would be paid US$340. The corresponding wage received by a worker in advanced benchmark economies for producing the same output worth US 1,000 was higher, at US$510. This is due to advanced technological and human capital development in these countries.

One has to keep in mind that the issue of overdependence on cheap foreign workers in this country does not affect only the Indian community, but also the other communities within the B40 Category.

There is also the issue of skilled workers from all walks of life leaving the country due to being paid low wages, while foreign countries pay better wages for for jobs that are routine, dirty and dangerous. The skilled dimensions of these jobs are valued in those countries.

Currently in Malaysia, there is no proper illustration of what constitutes a skilled job for all categories of work, and how much a skilled worker should be paid. These are structural problems that need a long-term solution from the government.

Therefore, it is vital that organisations like Hindraf play a proactive role by working hand-in-hand with other communities in helping the government reform the current Malaysian industrial and cultural order that is tilted in favor of capitalists who desire cheap labourers.

Hindraf should prioritise the enhancement of human persons through human capital development and ethical technological development that is imbued in universal spiritual values. We need to address the industrial imbalances from a Malaysian perspective, rather than a narrow communal perspective.

RONALD BENJAMIN is the executive secretary for the Association for Community and Dialogue.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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