The government’s decision to suddenly freeze the recruitment of all foreign workers has come under heavy criticism from industry groups and associations.
The move, announced today by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said the moratorium stays until it ascertains the actual manpower needs of industries and review the revised two-category levy on foreign workers.
In response, industry groups said the move may affect the economy, apart from already having an adverse effect on their members, especially companies which are in the midst of applying for foreign workers.
Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), in a statement, has called on the government to consult with affected industries.
"The FMM urges the government to review its decision to suspend recruitment and also renewals via the MyEG system, which is the single avenue for renewal of foreign worker work permits.
"We also hope that the government will consult with the industry and develop transparent, consistent, and stable policies which are very important for the business community," it said.
FMM also called for clearer details from the government on the decision to freeze foreign labour intake.
"It is unclear to manufacturers how long the suspension would take effect. Some employers have earlier received approvals to bring in workers and are in different stages of recruitment, including some with workers already on their way to Malaysia," it said.
FMM said the government should give due consideration to companies which are already engaged in bringing in foreign labour.
It reiterated that in lieu of proper explanations, the employers concerned will be in limbo.
FMM also stressed its members have been doing local recruitment first, this being a requirement imposed by the government before employers can apply to bring in foreign workers.
"Hence, companies which have received approval have already proven that their need for additional manpower is justified and could not be supplied by local workers."
'Who will benefit?'
The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) said government flip-flop on the policy has made it difficult for business to adapt.
Its secretary-general Low Kian Chuan said Ahmad Zahid - just a few days ago - was commending on the advantages of recruiting 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers.
He said since Malaysia signed an MOU with Bangladesh yesterday, today’s about-turn has raised a lot of questions.
"What’s the reason? We have no idea. What are the fees to legalise illegal workers? Who will benefit?" he said, urging Ahmad Zahid to reveal the exact duration of the freeze.
Low said today's freeze announcement, like the increment of workers’ levy, was also done without any consultation with the affected associations.
‘Avoid future flip-flops’
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) called on the government to avoid such "flip-flop" policies in the future
"We should be avoiding this kind of policy, where yesterday is okay, and today not okay, When we do business, we think of it on a long-term basis. We cannot switch on and off, just as we like; this is something which shouldn't be happening.
"This is the kind of we should avoid, where the industry, the public, and even the international community and the would-be investors who are looking at what we are doing, we are sending the wrong kind of signal to the community inside and outside the country," its executive director Shamsuddin Bardan told Malaysiakini .
Shamsuddin said that the announcement has taken employers and many parties off guard. He also echoed FMM's call for the government to sit together with the stakeholders, employers, and unions to see how best to address the situation.
Meanwhile, SMI Association of Malaysia said the freeze will also affect small and medium enterprise (SME), an industry which has always faced a shortage of foreign workers.
Its president Michael Kang Hua Keong said SME companies will need replacement labour after the terms for their current batch of workers expire.
He complained that applying for foreign workers was a complicated process, which caused some employers to resort to using workers with no permits.
However, he said the association supported government action to legalise workers who were caught with no documents, instead of sending them back after arrest.
The organisations were responding to the government's sudden decision to freeze the intake of new foreign workers from all countries, in conjunction with a review of the two-tier levy programme which may see levies on foreign labour increased.
The freeze came after brickbats from various quarters following a memorandum of understanding signed between Malaysia and Bangladesh yesterday which may see 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers sent to Malaysia.