Gov urged to tweak foreign labour policy

GEORGE TOWN: Plantation industry groups are urging the government not to freeze the intake of foreign workers and also to directly handle the amnesty programme for an estimated two million illegal immigrants.

The government plans to outsource the amnesty programme to third parties, which some claim will leave the room open for abuse.

Earlier this month, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong reportedly said the objective of the amnesty programme is to collate data such as the actual number of the illegal immigrants and the sectors they are involved in. It also gives the opportunity to the immigrants to return to their country without any legal action taken against them under the stipulated time approved by the Cabinet.

Currently, Malaysia has a population of 28 million, while the unemployment rate is at 3.4 per cent. Lee explained that the government is seeking to curb employers' dependency on low-skilled foreign labours and keeping track of the rising illegal immigrants in the country. The government had also recently announced a biometric security system at the customs to store the records and better identify those entering the country.

In response, Malaysian Estate Owners Association president Boon Weng Siew lauded the spirit of the amnesty programme, but felt the government should not freeze the intake of foreign workers from July 1 to facilitate the amnesty plan.

"This is because the illegal workers being offered amnesty might not be suitable for work in the agriculture sector. They may run back to the city after we take them in. When we recruit, we want workers who already have some background in agriculture and really wants to work in the estate," he said.

"The fees charged under this amnesty programme is also very costly. It can range between RM3,000 and RM5,000 per worker," he added.

Boon was speaking to Business Times at the sidelines of the 9th Incorporated Society of Planters National Seminar held here yesterday. Also present was Malayan Agricultural Producers Association (MAPA) executive director Mohamad Audong.

He highlighted the loopholes arising out of this amnesty programme. "There are certain unscrupulous agents taking advantage of the situation by persuading legal foreign workers to register with them to become illegal, in the hope that they can get higher wages when they change employers.

"Some plantation firms have informed us that they have received flyers encouraging foreign workers, whether legal or illegal, to register with them. If this unhealthy practises are not checked, it will cause further shortage of workers, particularly in the plantation sector," he said.

"We urge the government to review the whole process. The government should not privatise or outsource this massive amnesty programme. The programme should be directly handled by the relevant authorities," he added.

Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive officer Datuk Mamat Salleh, who was also at the interview, concurred with MAPA's views. "The outsourcing of the amnesty programme will not solve the problem of worker shortages. Furthermore, it will tempt legal workers to throw away their passports and become illegal in the belief that they could change employers and get paid more," he said.

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