Lack of unskilled foreign labor a pain to industries

The Star
Nasi kandar restaurant operators are in desperate need of foreign workers to help in daily operations.

Manufacturers in Penang only have two-thirds of their workforce available and are at risk of failing to fulfil their orders on time.

The “missing” one-third of the workforce, or about 60,000 workers in total, are due to the vacuum left behind by unskilled foreign labor, said Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers Penang chairman Datuk Lee Teong Li.

As manufacturers resume normal operations in line with Malaysia’s transition to the endemic phase, he said the shortage of unskilled foreign labor still exists.

Lee said the affected companies submitted applications to authorities for permits to bring in workers, but obstacles including cross-border red tape and some travel restrictions had hobbled their efforts.

“The four main countries from which workers come from are Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal.

“It has been many months since the companies applied for their permits but only a few have received the supply of workers, while many are still waiting,” he added.

He said if the labor shortage persisted, companies would miss their order timetable and face an increase in operating costs.

“The labor shortage is hindering manufacturers from accepting more orders while the existing workers must work overtime.

“With the new minimum wage now at RM1,500, many companies are also facing financial burden.”

He said attempts to fill the vacancies with Malaysian workers had generally failed.

“If we could choose, we would prefer locals. It’s costly to hire foreigners as we have to bring them over and find them accommodation … a lot of work is needed to hire them.

“There aren’t enough locals taking up our offers,” he said.

Lee said some manufacturers had changed to automation to reduce labor.

But there’s a shortage of adept engineers to study the production process and build specialized machines to carry out the jobs.

“Automation is economically viable only for high-volume production. There are limits to what computers and machinery can do.

“There are a lot of changeovers in the manufacturing processes which require human hands, unless the products are of such high value or volume to justify the need for a robotic arm or conveyor belt system,” he said.

Separately, nasi kandar restaurant operators here are in desperate need of foreign workers to help in their daily operations.

Hameediyah Restaurant director Muhammad Riyaaz Syed Ibrahim said the restaurant was not only having trouble recruiting Bangladeshi workers but also those from Nepal and India.

“Before the pandemic, we had more than 30 foreign workers in our restaurant chains in George Town, Sungai Ara and Bukit Mertajam.

“But now, we have only about 20 workers covering these three restaurants. Ten of them are from India and Nepal.

“I did apply for workers during the rehiring process through an online system but it was only open for three months.

“We did offer jobs to Malaysians, especially school leavers, but there were no takers.”