KL to allow more foreign workers in four sectors

Curbs on hiring to be eased in manufacturing, construction, plantation, furniture-making

KUALA LUMPUR • The Malaysian Cabinet is lifting a freeze on hiring of foreign workers in four sectors.

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai yesterday said the decision was made in the light of appeals from the manufacturing, construction, plantation and furniture-making industries, which are facing a major shortage of workers.

"In view of the acute shortage, we have to lift the suspension to allow these sectors to bring in foreign workers," said Datuk Seri Liow.

He also said the Cabinet was already looking to improve the system for hiring foreign workers, after which it would gradually lift the hiring freeze in other sectors too.

"On other sectors, we will go on a case-by-case basis, while waiting for the creation of a more fool- proof, transparent and accountable system," he added.

"Workers are important for the productivity of these sectors, so if employers face too many uncertainties in hiring workers, that will not go well for the nation's economic growth," he said.

Mr Liow added that it would take time for the government to engage with the various industries to better understand their situations.

However, he emphasised that it was important for the government to regulate and have proper control over the hiring of foreign workers in Malaysia.

A recent survey by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers showed that 84 per cent of them were facing a labour shortage, with half claiming that they had not been able to fulfil existing orders.

The survey also showed 146 companies required 13,270 new workers this year to meet their business needs and replace unfit workers or those who are returning to their home country.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Wee Ka Siong said the rehiring programme for illegal foreign workers must be made more efficient to assist manufacturers, who have been facing a manpower shortage due to the freeze on foreign workers since February.

Only 55,000 illegals have been rehired so far, out of the estimated 1.4 million said to be in the country.

The freeze had come swiftly on the heels of a public backlash which followed the government's announcement in February that it planned to bring in 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh.

Malaysia has the fourth-largest number of foreign workers in East Asia-Pacific, according to a 2015 World Bank report. These workers - and their families - are mostly from Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline KL to allow more foreign workers in four sectors. Subscribe