Daim Zainuddin says industries will not innovate as long as they employ cheap labour.

PETALING JAYA: Former finance minister Daim Zainuddin has urged the government to muster the political will to stop employers from exploiting cheap labour, saying it generally does not benefit Malaysians.

“This cheap labour does not benefit Malaysians. Even with cheap labour, house prices are exorbitant. Even with cheap labour, food prices keep rising,” he said.

Moreover, Daim said, industries would not innovate as long as Malaysia kept taking in cheap labour.

“What we need is political will, the will to take the bull by the horns,” he told FMT.

He called for a resolve to “take the difficult remedial steps” and to force industries to “accept the new norm that cheap labour is no longer a given”.

“One of the main reasons for allowing cheap labour and for the lack of political will is that the provision of such labour is a very lucrative source of illegal income for some people,” he said.

He alleged that many agencies were allowing people to exploit a system that was highly disorganised in order to make a quick buck and, in some cases, billions of ringgit.

He said the existing recruitment structures and policies needed a complete overhaul.

“As long as the employers, the recruitment agents and the foreign workers themselves find that they are not held accountable, or where it is more profitable to avoid accountability, the vicious cycle of profiteering, human trafficking, abandonment, abuse and poor regard for welfare and wellbeing will continue to spiral indefinitely.”

Daim, who was head of the Council of Eminent Persons set up by Dr Mahathir Mohamad after he became prime minister again in 2018, was asked to comment on the presence of a large number of migrant workers in the country.

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He said industry associations had, over the years, collaborated with government agencies through various working and technical committees to address the long-drawn issue of the management of foreign workers.

“Disappointingly, there is a lack of political will to review and enhance the existing system of foreign worker recruitment to streamline the multiplicative agencies responsible.”

He said a clear and transparent policy would help to ease the uncertainty of investors and businesses, adding that it would also help to provide a safety net for foreign workers.

“We must not forget that they are humans too and their contributions to our country should be recognised.”

Asked if a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) could identify the root causes of unhealthy practices, Daim said: “If the government does not follow through on the recommendations of an RCI and simply ignores them, what is the point of having an RCI?

“It simply becomes smoke and mirrors. In fact, we have even seen during Barisan Nasional’s final years that RCIs were misused to persecute political enemies.

“I don’t believe we need an RCI for this issue.”



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