Let’s depend more on our own workers

By The Sun

FINALLY it is beginning to dawn on us that we actually need the foreign workers that many of us have been complaining about and who some of us have occasionally abused. The sector that has sounded the alarm first that it is short of workers is the palm oil industry and there is talk that the construction sector may begin to experience a shortage as well.

Most of the workers in the palm oil sector are Indonesians and they are in demand as harvesters. Without them there is concern whether the palm oil industry will still be Malaysia’s fourth largest export earner bringing in about RM52 billion this year and projected to earn about RM178 billion by 2020? As always we are probably unprepared for the day the Indonesian workers would decide that working in their own country is better than working in Malaysia. What more when their country, economically stronger now, is luring them back with salaries almost the same as here. When the Indonesian economy started to grow we should have been alerted.

Have we seriously tried to recruit locals as oil palm estate workers? It is inevitable that after the economy of the countries in the region improve we may have to depend on our own workers. Of course, it goes without saying that they have to be paid better than what the Indonesians are paid. An alternative is mechanisation.

The building industry there, too, is also beginning to boom and where else would it get trained, skilled and experienced workers? From Malaysia, of course. These are the thousands of Indonesians we see perched precariously on top of buildings in the sun and rain. Many have fallen to their death while building the buildings that dot the skylines of our cities. But do we acknowledge their contribution to our growth, wellbeing and prosperity? While some may cheer that the Indonesians are going back, others may groan at the slow progress of work due to shortage of workers. Those who cheer are probably those who seem to think that Indonesians commit the bulk of crime in this country when statistics have shown that this is not true. Only a small number are involved.

Perhaps Malaysians too can be employed in the construction sector if the salaries are much better than what is being paid to the Indonesians. After all many Malaysian construction workers are working in Singapore because of better pay. So give them better pay and call them blue-collar workers instead of estate workers and who knows maybe in time we may not need to depend on foreign labour anymore for our development and prosperity.