GLOBAL LOCKDOWN

World News Day: Malaysians returning to Singapore for work as border controls ease

Workers arriving at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint from Malaysia on Aug 17, when cross-border travel resumed. The partial reopening of borders has brought relief to firms in Singapore facing labour shortages. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Workers arriving at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint from Malaysia on Aug 17, when cross-border travel resumed. The partial reopening of borders has brought relief to firms in Singapore facing labour shortages. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Hundreds of Malaysians - from factory workers and salesmen to electricians, painters and carpenters - have crossed the Causeway to Singapore for work since Aug 17.

The inflow has come as a relief for many businesses, which lost their key employees when the Malaysian government closed the border on March 18 in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Many Malaysian workers were stuck at home, unable to cross the border, while others sought temporary accommodation in Singapore so they could continue working.

"When Singapore started reopening the economy in May, we couldn't start work as many of our workers were stuck in Malaysia," said Mr Alloyious Koh, chief creative consultant of Carpenters Design Group.

Mr Koh is now optimistic about getting operations back to normal as his company has brought in around 20 workers under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), one of two schemes that facilitate travel between Malaysia and Singapore.

The PCA allows Singapore and Malaysia residents with long-term immigration passes for business and work in the other country to enter for work, while the Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement facilitates travel for essential business or official purposes.

Before the pandemic, more than 300,000 people used the Causeway every day. Among these were about 100,000 Malaysians who commuted daily to Singapore to work in a wide variety of jobs before returning home at night.

The partial reopening of the border has also seen hundreds of Malaysians leaving Singapore for the first time in months to go home.

Hotel worker Muhd Shafii Muhd, 40, was excited to see his family in Johor Baru after five months of separation. His employer has let him take no-pay leave for the rest of the year and return in January.

"The first thing I am going to do is spend time with my family; that's the most important thing," he said.​​

Ms Cindy Ong, 33, a nurse, has also decided to stay put in Johor. "As of now, we get by with savings. My husband is also helping out in a friend's business. We are hoping borders will reopen completely for daily travel so that we can resume our work in Singapore," she said.

The resumption of cross-border travel is still a trickle compared with before the pandemic, said Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin.

But it will help reduce some of the worker shortages faced by contractors, especially for home renovations and repairs, he said.

 
 
 
 

Electronics giant Gain City, which had 20 employees stuck in Malaysia, brought 10 back under the PCA.

One of them, Malaysian Foo Tuck Hoe, 33, said the border reopening has brought much hope to him and his family. Mr Foo, who installs air-conditioners, said he had been worried about not having a stable income after he found out in May that his wife was pregnant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysians returning to Singapore for work as border controls ease'. Print Edition | Subscribe