KUALA LUMPUR | The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) criticised today the Home Minister’s proposal for local companies to employ undocumented migrants held in immigration detention centres.

It said the suggestion contradicted the government’s efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign labour and to reduce unemployment among Malaysians.

MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon also argued that the proposal went against Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan’s announcement on the freeze foreign labour recruitment until the end of the year.

“In proposing to allow employers to hire workers from Immigration Detention Centres, the Home Ministry appears to be working in silos and at odds with MOHR policies to reduce the growing number of migrant workers in the country,” he said.

The MTUC said the move to freeze foreign worker hiring was a positive move that would help to check Malaysia’s dependency on unskilled migrant labour and open the doors for a comprehensive review on the need to improve salaries and benefits to encourage Malaysians to take over jobs traditionally filled by foreigners.

However, he said Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin’s statement on the same day was in contradiction to the move and was not practical or fair.

“Every undocumented worker should have the right to be legalized. Otherwise, we will be considered as discriminating foreign workers and once again make international headlines for the wrong reasons,” said Solomon.

He said Hamzah’s proposal shows that empowering two ministries for jurisdiction and responsibility over foreign workers has continued to result in ambiguous policies and knee jerk measures which fail to stem the influx of illegal foreign workers.

“The government must not be seen as penny wise and pound foolish. The government policies must focus on discouraging millions of foreigners from entering the country illegally to work.

“The Home Affairs Ministry should not be in the business of offering employers illegal migrant labour at its detention centres, merely to reduce costs,” he said.

Solomon said that the government should concentrate on implementing the proposal to freeze the intake of foreign workers and simultaneously tighten enforcement to stop human trafficking rings to smuggle foreign workers into the country.

He also said that the MOHR must do more to compel employers to woo Malaysian workers by offering decent wages and benefits in order to attract them to take over blue-collar jobs from foreigners which would include unskilled positions in the construction, plantation and manufacturing sectors.

“Sadly, we have not seen any noticeable or collective effort on the part of employers to offer better wages and perks to encourage Malaysians to replace migrant workers in blue-collar jobs. Neither have employers made any collective effort to push for automation which would provide opportunities for Malaysian workers to enhance their skills and command better wages.

“MTUC finds that many employers are reluctant even to offer the minimum wage of RM1,200 to foreign workers to keep their costs low and the bottom line healthy. This is an area that the MOHR must tackle earnestly and honestly if it is serious to get locals to take over from migrant workers,” he said.

Solomon said there has to be a clear political will from the government to push employers into this direction as well as pay fair and decent wages to Malaysians for blue-collar jobs.