the argument for foreign help

So the latest hoo-haa about the 1.5Million of Bangladeshis entering our M’sia workforce is the news but this time due to some ministers complaining that it is because the locals refuse to do the 3 Ds (dirty, difficult, dangerous).

To be fair – it is not necessarily wrong but what the ministers fail to see (or ignore) is the fact that it in our nature. Humans are naturally lazy & averse to danger (in our genes to survive vs dying).

Then there are people writing sarcastic article to drive home some point & there is also one (reasons to review policies) that I feel is more objective.

For the sarcastic article – I feel a bit disappointed this article written by one of my favourite political blogger as he said the SMIs mostly owned by the Chinese will suffer. I guess he made this assumption because most of the SMIs are Chinese owned & that SMIs employed a lot of foreign labour just because they are ‘cheaper’ than locals.

The truth is foreign labours are more expensive. While their supposed minimum wage is RM900 – they expect overtime (they want to work 6days 12 hours a week) so that they can get at least a monthly wage of RM1200. Housing is to be paid for by the employer (that adds up to RM200 a month minimum). The initial cost of application with govt & the agency fees that could cost RM3000-5000 (for a 3 year term). All these means – the cost of a foreign labour per month is actually RM1500 minimum (why I say minimum? well, there are other costs like levy – where sometimes employer cover for, yearly health screening, yearly increment, benefits like air ticket to go back home – 3 months of absence with leave etc).

So are these foreign labours truly ‘cheaper’ than a local? Nope – they are not. They cost about the same. But why we (these stupid Chinese SMIs) still employ them? Well – just because they are ‘reliable’. They come to work when it is a work day. They are not so ‘hardworking’ – they sometimes skives (like all humans do) at work. While our work is not dirty / dangerous , it does require strength but not the whole of 8 hours. We employ a few locals with the pay of RM1500/month with less work hours than the foreign worker (ie 8 hours/day, 5.5day/week) yet the locals could never attend work everyday – thus – unreliable.

Like all businesses in the world (as mentioned by RPK including his restaurant in UK) faces labour shortages. Same with our industry. The SMIs in M’sia tries to work around these challenges by improving processes & productivity without any support from the govt (unlike Spore’s govt massive support to SMI for productivity). Our small company for example increased our business revenue by 38% with the same number of workers in the last 7 years. Everyone in the company enjoys the fruits of productivity by having higher pay. While 5% does not seem like a lot, but we did all that without adding any capital / machinery investment, just pure process improvement (which means using our brains vs brawn).

I am no expert in policy or government policies. But what I do know is this – we need to instill the simple ethic of  “responsiblity” either through educating from young or through legal employment laws to drive home the point (for eg. how is our labour law does not ‘allow’ companies to fire high absentism or cheating of customers without the lengthy process of domestic inquiry?). Responsibility does not entail just coming to work everyday but also responsible to one’s actions and to the people that we serve.

I do not think the locals shuns the 3 Ds work. They do not mind the work, but then they can’t work a full 5 days work – they can only work 3 days work week. (Hmm… this gives me an idea – maybe I should employ people for part time work – 3 days work week!)

I have past long gone from lamenting about the lack of workers or rather immune to it. I have to just keep on reading, asking, experience & think of new method of work to continue to survive in the ever changing competitive environment.