Friday, April 22, 2016

Foreign Workers Permits, Triple-D jobs and Market-based System

I don't really want to get into the semantics and polemics of the Triple-D jobs in Malaysia that the people in power insists, Malaysians do not want to do. The 3 "D"s in Triple-D are DIRTY, DANGEROUS and DULL.

This blog has 2 parts.

Here's Part 1. This widely held view that Malaysians eschew Triple-D jobs is too simplistic. Those of us who have traveled to more advanced economies in the Western world and East Asia will testify to have seen Caucasians, Japanese and South Koreans do Triple-D jobs in their own countries. And, you can watch a popular show hosted by Mike Rowe called Dirty Jobs to see for yourself that people in advanced economies are quite happy to do Triple-D jobs.

So, the more appropriate question would be to ask why is it that Malaysians appear not to want to do Triple-D jobs? 

When I wanted to earn some extra cash during my university student days I applied for a Triple-D job in a woodyard. This was in a Western country. Dirty jobs are dirty jobs wherever you are! I was quite happy to do the jobs for a few reasons-
  • Yes, ok, I needed the cash-la.
  • There were lots of safety equipment given. Ear plugs to protect your hearing. Safety glasses to protect your eyes. Breathing mask to protect your nose and lungs. Safety boots to protect your feet. Safety harness to protect yourself from falling. The list goes on. AND .... the boss briefed me on the do's and don't's of the work.
  • The pay was very decent.
Malaysians are not bodoh. We look at the people doing Triple-D jobs all over our country and we have all been exposed to all sorts of information and images of what people who do Triple-D jobs do in advanced economies. More often than not, we don't see similar equipment being used by people doing Triple-D jobs in Malaysia.

Even with the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), many Malaysian employers involved in Triple-D enterprises are lax and stingy. 

And the pay is usually too crappy.

These are structural issues that the people in power should be addressing in order to engender a virtuous cycle for Triple-D jobs that will attract Malaysians. 

There is no need for people in power to talk about institutionalising the importation of 1.5 million foreign workers and, then, to childishly do a volte-face when there is some push back from various segments of the Malaysian polity. People in power within a purported democratic framework should be mindful that Malaysia is an open, international and competitive economy. Arbitrariness in policies is one of the greatest sins in global competitiveness.

People in power must be big hearted and mature enough to go beyond the complacent assurance that their rural and Sabah and Sarawak vote bank will keep them in power and, that, therefore whoever is unhappy with the policies can just go and choke on their nasi lemak.

Now for Part 2.

There is a swirl of earnest discussion in the United States for the past 5 years or so, on the issue of migrant workers with low skills and those with high skills. This blog post, of course, focuses on the low-skills aspect of the matter.

The discussion focuses on the need for the U.S. to introduce a market-based system that operates like an auction system. Employers who need low-skilled foreign workers will each put in price bids based on their respective budgets. The highest bidder will secure their quota of foreign workers.

You can find one scenario for the proposed market-based system here.

Here's Adam Minter of Bloomberg's observation- A better system for Malaysia -- and other immigrant-dependent economies -- is to replace quotas altogether in favor of a market-based system in which employers in specific industries bid on permits to hire foreign workers. Permits would naturally flow to employers who need workers most, and the government could adjust the number made available based on economic circumstances. Done right, such a system would ultimately help local workers and boost wages, while demonstrating why economic immigration is so important. For now, Malaysia looks unlikely to take this path. But if its officials hope to justify their foreign-labor policies, they'd best consider letting the market do the talking for them.

Yes, the people in power should do the right thing and implement a foreign worker programme that lets the market do the talking!

As for the matter of looking into the structural issues involving getting more Malaysian involvement in the Triple-D jobs, can the people in power, especially those responsible for Human Resources, look into this a bit more.

I would like to do more studies into this matter but my day job obligations beckon and, so I have to leave it here.

1 comment:

walla said...

1. I take a route almost every other day where for long stretches it is just choked with dust and diesel fumes. The D3 people working to pave it cover their faces but then again it is not too healthy because the heat from sky and ground burns the skin and the drought does nothing to dampen the grounds. Twice a day, a tanker trickles water to moisten down the dust but the heat gets it up again besides sucking the oxygen out of tired lungs.

2. One should not be surprised there are still many places where foreigners outnumber locals. If both chase after the same jobs, the foreigners will win because they come to make money in order to survive and send back, they are bigger in numbers, they have more physical endurance, and they have a timetable for their livelihood targets which means they are willing to save even if it means only one handful of rice and a small piece of yesterday's scrawny meat for lunch after and before hours of backbreaking work. And water from the oily river.

3. When the tax was implemented, prices of many consumer items went up and shocked a lot of people. These are people who make just enough every day to pay for basics. Suddenly the cost of feeding their family members, paying rent and having a rudimentary life went through the roof because there is a multiplier effect throughout the supply chains. Many just cut back on their basics which in turn folded many outlets employing low-waged workers and that depressed the wage threshold. When businesses as demand are about to fold, and workers as supply get more desperate, nobody will lend any ear to armchair policies which both have long identified as the catalyzing culprit for the labor market mess.

4. One may say the safe harbor remains the civil service which get its increments no matter what will happen to the national coffers and development funds. As for the hardcore poor getting social money, it doesn't last a week what more a year besides creating an unhealthy expectation that weakens the mind, cheapens the soul and endangers the competitiveness of the labor economy.

5. There are things one can debate about wage levels for locals and for foreigners. But those in the thick of trying to operate a business that requires abundant and reasonably good workers and ten other roulette variables will guffaw at some of the sentimentality which if adopted will exile the long-term survival of enterprises dependent on IMG workers whose quality can quickly gut any vision for holistic improvement. Especially when many official policies and counter services are such that investors can be forgiven for their head-shaking annoyances and conclusions at how pro-business actually translates into turfdom and zero customer service.

6. A labor quota-auction system will in the short-run lead to big player monopolies. They will in turn try to get back what they have to spend beyond their tooth-combed budget. From who and where will they try to get back their new outlays? And in the longer run, the smaller players will find it harder and costlier to get workers because the supply market of workers will demand more from them for not going to the big players.

Labor not main plus service no brain equals advanced economy train left long ago so shall we take comfort we only missed the bus?

I do wish someone will retort my conclusions so that i can learn where i could be wrong in this biosphere of grim pessimism about things. Please try, huh?