Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister, M. Kulasegaran said that the government would reinstate the foreign workers replacement system to all sectors effective 1 July. This would allow employers to get a replacement for a foreign worker who had returned to his home country without having to go through a new application process. “The government believes this approach will not involve increasing the number of foreign workers, but instead retain the number of foreign workers which has been approved for employers before,” he said. The minister said the government’s decision was expected to help resolve the shortage of workers and ensure that the production of goods, especially those for export, was not affected.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) and non-governmental organisations have welcomed the move. The MEF however, has called for the process to be further improved. MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said that bringing back the scheme would help reduce cost and time. “Prior to the reinstatement, employers had to apply as if they were new workers, although it’s meant for replacement of a previous worker who had left. It caused a lot of red tape, not to mention the costs,” he said. Datuk Shamsuddin hopes that the time taken for the approval of the replacement foreign worker would be expedited. “Rather than taking a few weeks for them to come to Malaysia to work, the processes should be improved further,” he said.

The Malaysian Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry welcomed the move, saying it would help revive about 100,000 Indian-owned banana leaf and nasi kandar restaurants nationwide. “The foreign worker replacement is not about opening new businesses; it is about sustaining old businesses that have been around for 30 to 40 years,” its president Datuk N. Gobalakrishnan said, adding that many of them had to scale down due to manpower shortage. He also hoped that the Human Resources Ministry would also allow frozen sectors – those not allowed to apply for foreign workers – the flexibility to hire foreign workers. He said the six – textile, jewellery, scrap metal and e-waste recycling, dobi, barber and sundry shops – were struggling to survive. Datuk Gobalakrishnan said these businesses had difficulty replacing workers who had returned to India as locals were not interested to handle the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs. “These are also traditional Indian businesses that require expertise that local workers do not have,” he said.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Datuk Soh Thian Lai said the reinstatement of the foreign worker replacement scheme was good for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). “This is a good decision made by the Cabinet to ease up at least 50% of the foreign workers quorum. “Employers will no longer have to go through another new application, which is a tedious process. This will definitely save time and money. “It will help those SMEs and households to have enough workforce,” he said.

Association of Employment Agencies Malaysia president Datuk Foo Yong Hooi hoped that the process to get the foreign workers replaced would be simplified. “It is a good move that has been long pending. However, the process has to be simplified and the details spelt out clearly,” he said.

Indian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Ayub Khan echoed the view, saying that the process must be simplified and “friendly” to businesses. “The replacement scheme being back in place is good for small businessmen and small traders,” he said and thanked the government for the move. “For us restaurant owners, we just want to make a living without much complication. “The easy replacement scheme will make life easier for us now.”

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J. Solomon in welcoming the move urged the government to address the issue of foreign workers in a more holistic manner and ensure that they knew their rights and were not exploited. “MTUC welcomes any effort made by the Cabinet to resolve unemployment and shortage of labour in the country. “MTUC had repeatedly suggested to the government the need to address the foreign workers issue holistically instead of dealing on an ad-hoc basis. “We also need to have a proper system in place to prevent the continuous dependence on foreign workers. “At the moment, we have approximately 10,000 foreign workers entering Malaysia monthly legally and it is anyone’s guess how many are here illegally”. Solomon urged the government to facilitate legalisation of illegal foreign workers who could replace foreign workers who had absconded.

Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) president Foo Chek Lee said Kulasegaran’s statement would give assurance to employers that their businesses would not be interrupted by lack of manpower. “MBAM supports the move as it can help resolve the shortage of labour in the country. “The previous system was an effective avenue for employers to replace workers and to enable employers to quickly meet their work obligations, especially when we now have a shortage of workers. “The current process takes an estimated nine weeks while the previous replacement process could take between one and two weeks, provided all the necessary documents were in order. “The reinstatement should be implemented immediately to save time and cost, which will help move the construction economy forward,” he said.