Jonathan Chai Voon Tok

KUCHING: A job vacuum is inevitable and some sectors with high dependence on foreign workers might be hit hard because locals tend to shy away from the 3D — dangerous, dirty and difficult — jobs.

In a report last Sunday, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) psychology and education professor Murnizam Halik said foreigners largely dominated the construction, plantation and agriculture sectors and also worked as domestic helpers but many Sabahans shunned such jobs.

“Low remuneration and the 3D nature of these jobs are the main reasons for such a low take-up by locals.

“I feel industries need to open up new sectors to attract locals, especially in manufacturing, but for the construction and plantation sectors, I’m not sure whether locals can fill the vacancies,” he said.

Last Friday, Senior Minister for Security, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, told reporters in Sepanggar that the military crackdown on illegal immigrants nationwide could open up more employment opportunities for locals in Sabah due to the job vacuum created when the foreigners are detained and subsequently repatriated.

As a result, Murnizam said there was no official data on the number of illegal immigrants hired in these four sectors but employers were constantly seeking workers.

According to Jonathan Chai Voon Tok, secretary-general of Kuching Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCGCCI), the country has to start somewhere if the government is serious in resolving this long-standing issue of illegal immigrants.

“Sure, some employers will feel the pinch in the short term, but for the good of our country and in the interest of our rakyat in general, it’s imperative to take drastic measures soonest to reduce the number of illegal immigrants and foreign workers within certain timelines.

“For those sectors like construction, plantation and agricultural, which are currently dominated by foreign workers, strict rules and regulations must be applied to ensure that only those with valid work permit are allowed to stay, and persistent efforts are required and regular crackdowns must be carried out to repatriate all illegal immigrants from our country,” he told New Sarawak Tribune on today.

Chai highlighted the rising number of illegal immigrants in the country as a grave concern and if this continues to go unchecked, it would become a time bomb that could explode anytime.

“Indeed, we should be alarmed by the high rate of Covid-19 infection from the cluster of foreign workers and illegal immigrants, not to mention the social problems created.

“There has been a lot of talk or proposals in the past but we never put our foot down in dealing with the problems seriously and effectively. Personally, I support the move of the government to crackdown on the illegal immigrants as well as to reduce the dependence of foreign workers as a promising long-term goal,” he continued.

Chai stressed that generally, Malaysians preferred to work in the service industry and in cities rather than rural plantations and the manufacturing sector — as certain industries like the palm oil producer is turning to machines to reduce its dependency on foreign labour and to boost productivity and efficiency.

“(But) at this juncture, the function of such machines is still limited and it doesn’t totally eliminate the dependence on foreign workers in the plantations industry. Hopefully, with more and more employers upgrading their processes with robotics and automation, the dependence of foreign workers would be reduced drastically,” he added.

Chai opined that more incentives from the government to encourage the transformation of the mode of operations of businesses in the private sector would help to expedite the process, or doing away with foreign workers, especially in relation to tax incentives and training subsidies.