Malaysian workers looking for factory jobs say it is increasingly difficult to get employment mainly because companies prefer foreign hands.
Many youth said they lose out to foreign workers even in lower-end jobs, to which Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan agreed, saying the places that turned down locals were all manned by foreign workers.
"There are youth looking for part-time work in places like petrol stations. They are having trouble even getting those jobs because foreign workers had been hired, even as cashiers," he said.
After months of unsuccessful attempts to obtain factory jobs, R. Enthren, 24 and J. Muthukumar, 25, are hopeful that their latest bids for production jobs at an electronics factory in Prai will land them among the employed.
"It is not easy to find factory jobs. I have found that most factories prefer foreign workers and women staff. They say men are not so reliable or disciplined.
"Even farms in the Cameron Highlands prefer foreign hands," Muthukumar told The Malaysian Insider during a recent meeting in the Prai industrial area on mainland Penang.
Desperate for a job, Enthren, who has a one-year-old child, said he would even take a low-level position that only paid a basic salary of RM900.
"I hope I will get good news. With overtime and other allowances, the pay will go up to about RM1,400.
"It will still be difficult to cope with the cost of living on that kind of salary but I am desperate. I have applied to 40 or 50 factories over the last three months," he said.
He said in the interview that he was always asked if he had SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) qualifications and spoke Malay and English. He asked if the foreign workers hired in large numbers were asked the same questions.
"What are their qualifications? Do they all speak Malay and English? It doesn't matter for them it seems, but we Malaysians must meet these requirements.
"The foreign workers also get hostels and transport, but what do we Malaysians get? They used to say 'Malaysia Boleh (can)', but 'boleh apa' (what can Malaysia do)?"
Enthren, who previously worked other low-paying jobs including driving a lorry, expressed frustration when asked for his opinion of the many foreign workers in Malaysia doing jobs that Malaysians supposedly did not want.
"If it is true that Malaysians don't want to do hard, low-level, unappealing jobs, then who are those rushing to Singapore or other countries to do that kind of work?
"If Singapore is just next door from Penang, I would also be one of them. But I cannot just leave my family," he said.
Hundreds of locals vying for 30 jobs
A contract cleaner, who wanted to be known as Emi, 26, said hundreds of locals had turned up at an open interview for 30 vacancies at an multinational electronics corporation in Kedah's Kulim Hi-Tech Park recently.
"Hundreds, or maybe close to a thousand, went for that interview. There were so many people going after the 30 jobs that the roads were jammed," she told The Malaysian Insider.
Emi, a Kulim local, earns RM900 per month as cleaner, a job which she started a few months ago to help her family make ends meet.
"There are also foreign workers here. Employers seem to prefer using foreign labour," she said.
Two Penang youths, who wanted to be known as Alif and Rizuan, work in an multinational electronics corporation's warehouse in the Bayan Lepas free trade zone, earning a basic monthly salary of RM900.
They said there were more foreigners than locals working at the factories on the island.
"They are hired in the hundreds by the factories. There are a few foreign workers in the warehouse with us too and they earn the same salary as us. The company also provides hostel accommodation for them.
"I feel unhappy when I think of it. These days, it is a challenge for locals to find jobs," said Alif, 20, who has been with the factory for two years.
Although the pay was not much and loading and unloading was tough work, Alif said at least he had a job that guaranteed him a monthly wage, and could get a few hundred ringgit more if he put in extra hours.
Rizuan, 22, said he had left his previous job as shop assistant for a warehouse job at the factory because he wanted steadier employment.
"I hope that the salaries of low-level factory workers can be improved to attract more locals to take on these jobs," he said.
A production worker in Prai, who wanted to be known only as Mohd Zaini, said he had been a factory worker for 18 years.
The 36-year-old said his job at a chain manufacturing company had occupational hazards but he could cope because he had skills training and experience working with mechanical equipment.
"Some local workers cannot stand it because of the noise and the work pressure. They are choosy. If you have the right mindset, you will be able to tough it out."
400,000 unemployed youths and counting
The issue of foreign labour in Malaysia has been in the spotlight since Putrajaya announced its plan to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshis over three years.
The government later said the figure represented Bangladeshi citizens who had registered with their government to work abroad. In February the government announced a blanket freeze on recruitment of foreign workers, and recently said it was halting intake of all new foreign workers.
MEF said there were already more than 400,000 unemployed youth in the country and the number would increase with fresh graduates and SPM school leavers looking for work.
"The move to bring in new foreign workers is too commercialised. There are people making a business out of it. It is not due to real need," Shamsuddin told The Malaysian Insider.
He said the government should re-look its policies, give companies incentives to invest in automation to reduce dependency on unskilled foreign labour, and rebrand low-level jobs to make them more respectable and higher paying.
He said there was talk of providing skills training for the Malaysian workforce under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), but "we are not seeing it".
Workers should also be trained and have their skills certified, which could lead to better pay and recognition.
"A worker with a skills certificate for instance, can get a basic of RM1,300, for example, or more depending on the skill level.
"We should push for certification," he said, adding that employers should have no trouble offering better pay if that could lead to higher productivity at the workplace.
"That will make it more meaningful in our objective to achieve the status of a high-income nation," he said. – March 14, 2016.