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Don’t make the same mistakes in programmes to legalise migrant workers, govt told

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers says employers who tried to recruit workers through previous programmes faced all manner of challenges and costs.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Foreign workers wearing face masks make their way home from work in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.
Foreign workers wearing face masks make their way home from work in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.

The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) has urged the government not to repeat the failures of previous programmes to legalise undocumented migrants, as the country continues to battle the labour shortage sparked by restrictions imposed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.

FMM president Soh Thian Lai said employers who tried to recruit workers through the programmes in question had faced all manner of challenges and costs in attempting to fulfil the stipulated conditions.

“In many instances, the legalisation included the involvement of third-party intermediaries, resulting in additional costs to the employers and profiteering by the intermediaries from the legislation exercise,” he said when contacted by MalaysiaNow.

He also said that employers were having trouble finding workers due to a lack of employee information repositories under the verification schemes which should be managed by the embassies of the respective countries.

Soh was responding to Human Resources Minister M Saravanan, who recently slammed the idea of legalising undocumented migrants for the workforce.

Saravanan, the Tapah MP, had said that this was a “stupid idea” which would only result in the arrival of more undocumented migrants to the country.

The National Association of Private Employment Agencies voiced support for Saravanan’s remarks but asked what the government intended to do about the three to four million undocumented migrants presently in the country.

Its secretary-general N Sukumaran said the problem was a lack of enforcement.

“Undocumented migrants are no longer afraid,” he said. “Those who come here have been living here illegally for years.

“Every time there is a legalisation effort, it only continues for a short while.”

Sukumaran said one of the main issues was the tendency of workers to move from one employer to the next.

“The moment a company can’t renew its permit for the following year, the worker automatically becomes illegal,” he said.

“When the company makes a police report, the worker can’t renew his or her permit anywhere else.”

Soh agreed that employers were worried about the dependability of undocumented workers hired through these legalisation programmes.

“The legalisation programmes also lead to an increase in abscondment among legal workers from their existing employers,” he said.

“They are lured by agents with the promise of more lucrative job opportunities through these legalisation exercises.”

He said another way for the government to resolve the problems related to the hiring process of foreign workers was to ensure a direct application process from the source country with a clear client charter for the purpose of effective processing.

The last recalibration programme for the repatriation of undocumented workers was in December last year.

A total of 192,281 workers registered to be voluntarily returned to their home countries.

The programme was later extended until the end of this month.

There are an estimated four to six million undocumented workers in Malaysia.

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