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Tapping foreign workers within
Published on: Sunday, February 04, 2024
By: Suria Abdullah
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Tapping foreign workers within
“Provided all scenarios, we have to consider what is the next best step. This issue is sensitive and I know the gravity of this situation. But Sabahans need to really consider the suggestion from the UN, as it makes sense,” Phoong said.
Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Industrial Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry is open to a suggestion that stateless people in Sabah be tapped as a labour source.

Datuk Phoong Jin Zhe said this could be one way to properly manage its illegal immigrant population besides cutting the dependency on foreign workers.

On Jan 25, United Nation’s resident coordinator for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Karima El Korri, said there was an urgency to devise appropriate solutions to address statelessness and undocumented people in Sabah.

“Look at the plantation industry, the worker shortage here is still serious and we need more workforce,” he said after hosting a media luncheon on Saturday.

He said previously when mega companies like Kibing and SK Nexilis wanted to build factories in Sabah, they had difficulty trying to find the right workers.

“We are very unique in terms of our population whereby half are below 40 years. Meaning we are a very young population,” said Phoong.

He said the majority of those in this age category are in lower skilled jobs but that does not mean Sabah lacks educated or skilled manpower.

“It is just that our industrialisation still lags behind and if we want to push industrialisation, then we can create higher or mixed skilled jobs for people here and they can improve their standard of living this way,” he said.

He said traditional sources for labour such as Indonesia would not be supplying workers to the state as they too are developing rapidly.

“Provided all scenarios, we have to consider what is the next best step. This issue is sensitive and I know the gravity of this situation. But Sabahans need to really consider the suggestion from the UN, as it makes sense,” he said.

The fact that many industries, especially the plantation sector, continue hiring undocumented people to address labour shortage problems showed that the state should seriously find alternative means to solve these matters, he added.

Phoong said for the past two governments including this current government, the leaders have been trying to create a way forward in dealing with this undocumented people and labour shortage issue.

He feels this matter needs a bipartisan resolution, despite the fact that the issues revolving have been politicised many times.

On related matters, he said with automation taking over many industries and economic sectors, it is still not the best solution to address labour shortage problems in Sabah.

“It still comes down to the need to source for different labour workforce and to decide whether to continue depending on foreign labour, or make use of those that are available in the state.” 

Recently, former Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh said Federal should review its foreign worker hiring policy of Indonesians, in particular, by allowing them to work up to 15 years. 

He said because existing laws require them to return home after an initial period, they usually don’t come back as Indonesian wages are comparable to what they receive here. 

It is a human capital loss for Sabah as the training and experience they gained while in Sabah now make them an asset over there.

In Sabah, the plantation sector is dominated by Indonesians while the construction sector by Filipinos. The Federal Government recently allowed hiring of foreign workers but to save the plantation industry from billion-ringgit losses due to lack of oil palm harvesters, among others. 

The Luyang assemblyman also expressed his gratitude to the media in covering local issues and political news.

It was his first luncheon for the media since becoming an assemblyman five years ago and hoped to continue working closely with them and to give his best as a state leader and minister.

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