Do we really need 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers?

by Gan Ping Sieu

QUICK TAKE: At present, the government has not been forthcoming about how it arrived at the 1.5 million figure, which sectors these workers will be deployed in and why they are favoured over others.

The absence of such explanations naturally arouses public suspicion and uneasiness.

Providing statistics on how many workers each sector needs could help to put the human resource issue in the right context and perspective, thus enabling a rational and healthy debate over related issues.

Clearing the air on these is part of good governance, which the Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet),  a civil society, promotes.

It further helps to justify the government’s policy on foreign labour that has wide socio-economic impact on the country.

We are not against bringing in foreign labour, especially to take up jobs often regarded by locals as dirty, dangerous and difficult. But in the long run, the country needs a human resource master plan to reduce Malaysians’ addiction to cheap unskilled labour.

They could be in the form of increasing productivity, promoting automation, changing our ways of life or encouraging those who are retired or having spare time to go back to full or part-time employment.

Our quest to become a high income nation should not be done through cheap foreign labour, which is not sustainable in the long run.

As it is, our working population is around 13 million. With 1.5 million being added to the existing estimated 5 million-strong foreign workers now, we would have a 2:1 ratio for local to foreign workers in the workforce. Is this a ratio our nation is comfortable with?

The government also needs to factor in costs like subsidies on food and transport which an increased pool of foreign workers would be able to enjoy, but to be borne by taxpayers.

We must refrain from taking the easy way out by perpetually increasing foreign unskilled workers but yet lament about the presence of massive number of foreigners in the workforce with socioeconomic impacts that we would rather do without.

It’s time the authorities deal with this problem in light of the economic model that we envisage to achieve and what best suits our nation’s interest. – The Ant Daily

Gan Ping Sieu is co-president of Cenbet. He is a former deputy minister of youth and sports, and is a lawyer by training.

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