PETALING JAYA (BERNAMA) - Malaysia wants all restaurants in the country to only recruit only locals as cooks from next year in order to reduce dependence on foreign labour, said Human Resource Minister M. Kulasegaran.
The local restaurant scene is dominated by foreign workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India who work as cooks, waiters and cleaners as Malaysians tend to shun the industry.
He said the regulation allow only Malaysians as cooks in all restaurants effective Jan 1, 2019.
"So we want locals to be employed as cooks. There will be no compromise... we are giving you notice to do it by Dec 31. If you don't do it, we can't help it," he told Bernama News Channel on Thursday (June 21).
Earlier, Mr Kulasegaran held a meeting with the Indian Restaurant Operators Association (Prisma) in Petaling Jaya.
He said the ministry would be holding more meetings with Prisma as well as the Indian Muslim Restaurant Operators Association (Presma) soon on the implementation of local cooks in restaurants.
He said the move would reduce dependence of local restaurants on foreign labour and ensure the quality of the local food.
He said the ministry would follow the footstep of the Penang state government in banning foreigners as cooks in food shops, restaurants as well as stalls around the island.
The Penang state government from 2014 prohibited foreigners to work as cooks at hawker stalls in the effort to protect national food heritage.
Prisma president P. Muthusamy said the decision was quite shocking and would have major implications to operators.
He said the industry has been facing problems of manpower in the past few years, with more than 500 restaurants closed during the period due to the shortage of workers.
Mr Muthusamy hopes the ministry will hold further discussions with food shop operators nationwide before implementing the decision.
Presma president Ayub Khan said the problem of workers was getting more serious as no locals want to work in restaurants.
"We advertised, offering a salary of up to RM2,500 (S$848) but no one came. It is not easy to find local workers for restaurants," he said.
A trio of associations representing 20,000 restaurant owners across the country in March submitted a memorandum to the government requesting a solution to the labour shortage.
Restaurateurs say their problems began back in 2016, when the government implemented a temporary freeze on hiring foreign workers.
Malaysia is trying to reduce its reliance on foreign labour, which has been blamed for the country's stagnant wages.
Officially there are 1.78 million foreign workers who work across different sectors in the economy, with 71,000 employed in the restaurant industry.
There are also estimates of more than one million migrants who work in the country without proper documents and willing to accept lower wages.
Hiring local staff would mean higher wages and result in Malaysians paying more for their food.