The government’s decision to allow only three industries to hire foreign workers — construction, plantation and agriculture – is a smart move to reduce reliance on foreign workers.
It relates to the statement by Deputy Human Resources Minister Tuan Awang Hashim in Parliament that other sectors currently using foreign workers would be required to employ locals.
The common perception that the construction sector is less attractive has increased, plus it fails to attract locals because most of them are more interested in other sectors seen as classier, coupled with better job security.
The Statistics Department reported the unemployment rate in May increased to 5.3 per cent from five per cent in April and the number of unemployed people increased by 47,300 to 826,100 individuals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The participation of locals in the construction industry may be part of the solution to unemployment.
It is also in line with the EMIR Research Quarterly Poll for the first quarter of this year, which indicates that the lack of job opportunities is one of the people’s worry indicators in the National Worry Index (NWI). The score, on a scale ranging from 0 to 1, was 0.78, showing a very worried rakyat.
Local skilled labour is also seen to be the problem because foreign workers seem to be more proficient and this is also why most construction companies tend to hire foreign workers for their willingness, speed and better quality of work.
According to a study by Universiti Teknologi Mara, factors that may lead to the shortage of local skilled labour are low wage guarantee, unfortunate career path, poor image of the industry and work environment, and level of education.
The study also suggested the best way to increase the participation of local skilled workforce in the construction industry is by commercialising the skills to be more attractive and encouraging, such as through Continuous Contractor Development Programme and increasing training programmes and implementing specialised training, especially for local youth.
And the government should also provide incentives to smaller companies to train local labour, increase the salaries or wages of the local workforce, and restrict and minimise the recruitment of foreign workers in the construction industry.
It is, in fact, part of the critical sectors, and if the right government assistance is there, it will have greater job security, reasonable remuneration and benefits.
Before the start of the pandemic, the performance of the construction industry was excellent as it recovered by 1.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year compared with a contraction of 0.6 per cent in the previous quarter.
However, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.
Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) chief executive Datuk Ahmad Asri Abdul Hamid also reported that the sector recorded RM11 billion in losses in the first phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
The CIDB survey showed the critical problem was labour shortage, as most construction companies depend on migrant labour.
Migrant workers were not permitted to enter Malaysia when the MCO came into effect, and many did not come forward for Covid-19 screening, preventing them from returning to work.
Therefore, locals’ involvement should be increased to provide relief to the construction industry.