KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Any decision by Myanmar to stop sending workers to Malaysia will not badly affect the country as Malaysians will be asked to fill the vacancies, said Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abdul Muttalib.
He said that besides Myanmar, there are also 14 other source countries, including Indonesia and Bangladesh, where employers could recruit from.
"Furthermore, we want to encourage more local workers to fill up any vacancies.
"That is why we have continuous programmes tailored to recruit local workers," he told reporters at the closing ceremony of Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) Conference and Exhibition 2016 closing ceremony on Wednesday (Dec 7).
He was commenting on reports that the Myanmar government has suspended sending workers to Malaysia following a diplomatic tiff between the two countries over the plight of Rohingyas in the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
According to Myanmar Times, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population released a statement announcing the suspension of the programme to send workers to Malaysia which was confirmed by the Myanmar Employment Agencies Federation.
Ismail acknowledged the importance of having foreign workers especially in labour intensive sectors but asked, "why do we need so many?"
According to the Home Ministry, there are about 140,259 Myanmar nationals holding valid temporary working permits in the country.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said he has not received any official notice from the Myanmar government on allegations that it has stopped its citizens from coming to Malaysia to work.
He said he came to know of the issue when it was reported by the Myanmar Times, the oldest privately owned English-language newspaper in the country.
Shamsuddin said even if the purported suspension of labour supply was true, there would be no significant short-term effect, provided the Myanmar workers already here are not pulled back immediately.
"Even so, it has to be noted that the presence of the workers already here is based on validity of their work permits. Upon expiry of their permits, they will have to be sent back.
"Foreign workers from Myanmar mostly work in the manufacturing, construction, services, plantation and agriculture industries here," he added.
According to MEF statistics, about 72 per cent of Malaysia's foreign workers from Myanmar worked in the manufacturing industry, 13 per cent in construction, 11 per cent in services, and the rest in plantation and agriculture.
Asked how the employers would cope if the new policy is enforced, Shamsuddin also said Malaysians should step up and fill in the spots.
He acknowledged that Malaysians may not be interested in the jobs the foreign workers leave behind as they would expect higher pay.
"Still they need to be encouraged to take up the vacancies. New policies need to be made, such as job rebranding and certifying skills of local employees to enable them to be more productive and later to command better salaries," he said.
On whether Malaysia should turn to labour resources from other Asean countries, Shamsuddin said the idea of hiring more locals was to reduce Malaysia's dependence on foreign workers.