Labour-intensive industries need help

Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing

KUCHING: The Sarawak government must begin to refocus on assisting labour-intensive industries which are facing a shortage of workers, including foreigners, such as oil palm plantations, manufacturing, and construction, says Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing.

“These are the challenges of a stagnating economy in recovery. In-depth discussions and research are needed to form a set of feasible, comprehensive solutions, while curbing the pandemic at the same time.

“We must assist employers in legally hiring foreign workers in a safe and well-regulated manner to solve the manpower shortage,” he said in a Facebook post on Friday (Aug 13).

He said nearly all economic sectors in Bintulu faced a lack of labour to keep their operations going.

“Though the estate has a bountiful harvest, it is of no use if there is a shortage of hands to harvest them.”

He said manufacturing factories or the construction industry also faced issues with completing projects on schedule and being hit with late delivery penalties.

“These different factors all bring skyrocketing losses to businesses of various sizes. Eventually their losses will also cause the state government to suffer revenue loss.”

Tiong, who is also Progressive Democratic Party president, said that without official support and channels, employers may be tempted to take risks and obtain foreign labour through irregular means – using middlemen and other entities that charge high fees but without security and liability.

“The influx of these unverified and untested workers could hinder the Health Department’s efforts to curb Covid-19 transmissions.

Contact tracing would be compromised and this would endanger the entire community.”

He suggested that the state government start talks with employers to formulate a mechanism to hire selected workers who are in detention centres due to expired work permits.

He added that in order to curb the abuse of such a mechanism, the state government may consider adjusting the limits on the number of workers each employer may hire based on the industry.

“In addition to being more cost-effective, this mechanism means that there is no need for employers to introduce new batches of foreign workers, and the workers who are already detained here can be returned to the field much more quickly.”

He proposed that if the existing number of foreign workers in a detention centre was too few to meet the needs of the industry, the state government could consider designing a strict but effective mechanism for importing foreign labour for qualified enterprises.

Tiong said at the borders, the government must identify suitable hotels or temporary quarantine centres exclusively to house incoming foreign workers to ease the management and future tracking of such individuals.

“The entire process should not be left to outsourced operations, which would incur greater costs and reduce control.

“This entire process must adhere to the standard operating procedures to prevent Covid-19, standardising the quarantine period to 21 days or longer, with frequent tests. Obviously, only those with negative test results would be allowed to be re-employed.”

He said this method could also help the government to reduce the cost of deporting overstaying individuals and of providing daily living needs for foreign workers in detention centres.