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PETALING JAYA: With an application freeze on the number of foreign workers in the sectors concerned, business groups are making a fervent appeal for the government not to shut them out and to consider the merits of each case.

They said market-driven factors impacted the need for foreign workers and as such, approvals should take this into account.

SME Association of Malaysia president Ding Hong Sing said the government should not have placed a quota on applications and approvals for foreign workers because not all the approved 995,396 workers would arrive in one go.

“They will only arrive in batches over 18 months. If employers can only apply again in 18 months, it would be too long to wait because business needs may change during this period of time.

“For example, an employer may have applied for 100 foreign workers who will only arrive in perhaps four or five batches.

“So halting recruitment now is not right. The government should instead engage with businesses and see what they really need,” he said.

While a certain number of the approved foreign workers have arrived, Ding said most were still in the process of getting over here.

He said micro and small-scale enterprises often faced problems getting applications for foreign workers approved.

“Unlike big companies, they usually apply for a small number of foreign workers and usually face hitches with documentation.

“The back and forth in getting things right takes time. So the government should continue to give approvals based on needs,” he said.

Ding called for continuous engagement with business groups.

“The government should engage more with business groups to know what is really happening.

“Any sudden decision could cause confusion and hamper business operations. All these only scare away foreign investors,” he pointed out.

In January, the government announced the Foreign Worker Employment Relaxation Plan (PKPPA) for five critical sectors – from Jan 17 to March 31 – to address the urgent workforce shortage issue.

The relaxed preconditions include bypassing a requirement for employers to prioritise local workers – by advertising available vacancies on the Human Resource Ministry’s dedicated portal; employers can hire foreign workers from 15 source countries without going through employment and quota eligibility preconditions.

On March 19, Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar said the quota application and approval for foreign workers, including those through PKPPA, had been postponed to a date to be announced later.

He said the decision was made after the ministry approved a quota of 995,396 foreign workers for various sectors as at March 14.

The minister said this was to ensure that employers who had been granted quota approval would start making plans for the immediate entry of the required foreign workers, adding that bosses should speed up hiring workers during this period.

In his response, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Datuk Ng Yih Pyng said there should not be a “fixed rule” for all sectors.

“We see where the government is coming from and the reason behind the quota halt. Many foreign workers have been approved but their arrivals are not so fast ... they come in batches.

“There will always be sectors that need labour with their production needs changing from time to time.

“So a case-by-case review should be the policy. We cannot have a fixed rule,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Ng, who is also the Federation of Goldsmiths and Jewellers Association of Malaysia adviser, said there were constant doubts as to whether businesses could get foreign workers in time to meet production targets.

“All businesses face ups and downs, and there are industries and sectors which are still in need of workers.

“Since it is not cost-effective to retain foreign workers when demand is low, the (increased) quota and approvals for foreign workers must be given when businesses need it.

“Otherwise, we will lose out on securing contracts because we cannot deliver. The investments will eventually go to other countries,” he said.

Ng said training was also necessary for newly arrived foreign workers arriving in batches.

“For example, there is still a need for workers in the construction industry and in food manufacturing. So we hope the government gives it a case-by-case review.”