Biometric plan needs clarity and realism first, then firmness


(The Star) – THE proper documentation of foreign workers is a serious matter any where.

More so here, where illegal, undocumented workers alone amount to nearly 10% of Malaysia’s population.

It does not help when workers, employers and agencies ignore the requirement of registration and medical checks, preferring to risk prosecution instead.

But when undocumented workers also need to be processed with the new biometric system as per the current re-registration exercise, the inevitable happens.

There is a crush at registration centres, with scuffles and pandemonium, while work schedules are skewed and productivity lost.

There have also been delays in implementation, besides un­­certainty and confusion over which types of workers need to be processed.

Industry requested an extension of today’s deadline, and the Home Ministry responded positively.

Employers found the two-week registration period too short, regardless of the slow response from workers in the initial days.

Two weeks might have been sufficient had the procedures been without problems and the conditions and requirements been clear.

Certainly, the official procedures can be made more streamlined, efficient and convenient for all.

But suddenly there seems to be no deadline altogether.

There must be no wild swing from a tight deadline to none at all.

Surely the point is to deter all relevant parties from failing to register workers or delaying that responsibility.

There is good reason for setting a reasonable deadline for such exercises – the authorities need to show that they are serious.

That is precisely why it is important to set realistic deadlines in the first place, to obviate the need for extensions.

Recruiting, transporting, handling and hiring undocumented workers seem both endemic and chronic in parts of the labour industry, despite their obvious illegality.

Lack of firmness on the part of the authorities, whether real or perceived, can only magnify the problems.

Repeated amnesties, with the routine processing of these undocumented workers, is then taken for granted by errant workers, agents and employers.

It may be what industry wants, because it affords minimal disruption of work schedules.

But it is also the surest way to encourage more illegals to enter the country, and in even larger numbers.

This kind of “registration on arrival” must be eradicated forthwith. It promotes worker abuse, along with various socio-economic and health problems for the host country.