These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.– Abraham Lincoln,
On Jan 31, and again on April 18, I wrote about the plight of Indian eateries in the state. Many were forced to close shop because of worker shortage – especially skilled foreign chefs – and the strict procedures imposed by the government in hiring foreign labour.
Good news now, the state government’s decision recently to allow Indian and Indian-Muslim (mamak) restaurant owners to hire or rehire foreign cooks should give restaurateurs a reason to smile.
I had a pleasant surprise last week when I went to my favourite mamak restaurant near Mile 3 in Kuching. The owner, whom I have known for decades, left the cashier counter as soon as he noticed me and came straight to my table, greeting me with clasped hands.
“Bro, I am so happy. Food today is on the house, order what you want. I am allowed to hire two cooks from India and another two workers from Indonesia,” said a beaming Abdul Salam, with tears in his eyes.
I was happy for him. I know he has gone through a lot lately. His food business has taken much beating – first from the COVID-19 pandemic, and later from the shortage of workers.
He has been talking about winding up his business for some time because of the foreign worker shortage caused by strict recruitment procedures. He had to send back his Indian chefs last year and since then was ‘surviving’ only because his wife and daughter were helping out in the kitchen.
Service was slow as there were no waiters with Abdul Salam and daughter having to double up as servers as the locals were reluctant to work in eateries despite the offer of high wages.
Many Indian eateries had to tutup kedai, mainly because they could not find skilled chefs. These chefs are usually hired from India, but because of the COVID scourge, the state government banned their recruitment.
Since we are now in the endemic stage, the immigration and labour authorities have relaxed the recruitment procedures, which should come as a relief to the restaurateurs.
The operators are thankful to the state government for answering their prayers. This year alone representatives of the restaurants met with state leaders on two occasions.
They met Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Datuk Gerawat Gala and Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas who promised to resolve their plight.
T Morgan, a joint partner of Selera Curry restaurant, was grateful to both the leaders for resolving their worker shortage problem.
“We thank Datuk Amar Douglas and Datuk Gerawat for keeping their promises. The GPS state government under Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg is a caring government which listens to the people.
“They understand the plight of the rakyat,” said Morgan.
Another restaurateur, Kamaljit Singh, who operates the popular Curry House chain throughout Sarawak, can rest easy now. His chain was badly affected by the shortage of workers but now that he is allowed to hire workers from India, he can resume full operations.
But he is hoping that the Labour Department will increase the quota of foreign workers from India as he runs 25 restaurants throughout Sarawak.
Kamaljit sent me a WhatsApp message yesterday when I told him I would be writing about the end of the plight of Indian restaurants.
I produce here his message in verbatim:
“Hi Rajah. For your information my outlets have got some APs which have been approved. I on behalf of Curry House (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd and AK Curry House Sdn Bhd would like to thank our government for hearing our pleas, and finally allowing in foreign labour for our restaurants.
“To the Labour Department, I would like to thank them for finally being unbiased in considering the problems by the Sarawakians regarding labour issues. We express our sincere gratitude to the government for the assistance provided in relation to the APs and shortage of Indian cooks we have been facing.
“As you are aware and as highlighted earlier, we are still facing shortages of cooks due to limited APs approved. Previously we only received 2 APs for Indian cooks per outlet.
“But at least now we received up to 4 Indian cooks for some of our outlets. This will ease our operation of business but again it is still not enough because of our long operating hours.
“I hope the Labour people will look into this matter as soon as possible.
“My sincere appreciation to all related departments in helping the restaurant owners who have been struggling during this tough time. Thank You.”
And on my part, I wish to thank our Premier and the GPS government for listening to the people. Sarawak takes care of all its people – regardless of race, creed or colour.