Saturday, 26 January 2008

We Need Skilled Workers

Brave New World (The Star)
28 June 2007


Stories about how badly Malaysian employers treat foreign workers are no longer a rare occurrence. The media should be commended for exposing such cruel and inhuman acts, which chip away at our national image.

Such despicable acts also go against the very grain of our national policy of 'Prosper thy neighbour’, which was initiated by our former prime minister and welcomed in the region.

To try using public relations to change perceptions in the wake of such sordid and ugly exposures of ill-treatment, abuse and cheating is foolish and a waste of time and resources. It only treats a festering wound on the surface.

We have to have the courage to admit that our over dependency on foreign labour – both legal and illegal – is fuelled by the motive to bloat profits for stakeholders or save more for families at the expense of the foreign help.

And to argue that one bad story on abuse does not negate the many personal accounts of honourable employers is not going to clear our reputation in the global arena. It is therefore timely for the nation to start thinking outside the box in an effort to make the country less dependent on foreign labour.

Here is some food for thought that the relevant parties and agencies should give further consideration to.

Make maid employment a skills-based industry. Having a curriculum to train and certify maids to meet local and international standards will create a pool of human resources in the country, and be a career pathway for our young as well as senior citizens who are currently losing out on so many job opportunities.

The building industry needs to give greater commitment and support to the churning out of qualified locals to meet the demand for skilled and semi-skilled labour.

This will also ensure that our young have an attractive career pathway to meet the current and future needs of the nation.

Properly regulated and promoted, we may eventually even be able to export such ‘knowledge workers’ and bring in foreign exchange.

Expose all employers and labour agencies that are suspected and found to be guilty of profiteering and/or abusing foreign labour.

The authorities must act fast and assertively on such culprits.

As the nation is moving into a full-fledged service economy, it certainly pays to start thinking and acting fast in preparation for the times ahead. Building our own skilled and semi-skilled ‘service industry’ will pay dividends.

The thousands of young who drop out of school after completing SPM and the many thousands retiring in the coming years can be tapped to fill such job openings.


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