Singapore Markets open in 4 hrs

Malaysians do Singapore’s dirty work while foreigners do theirs

Construction workers gather around a tap to wash their hands as they break for lunch in Singapore March 5, 2019. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Edgar Su)

By Anisah Shukry

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysians are crossing the straits to do Singapore’s dirty work for better pay, while relying on foreign labour to do similar work for them.

More than half a million Malaysians across all sectors opt to work in the city-state as the pay is about five times the amount offered by neighbouring countries, Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran said in a parliamentary reply Tuesday. That’s what makes them willing to take on even “3D work” -- dirty, dangerous, difficult -- that Malaysian companies are finding difficult to hire locals to do.

The trend has left the country’s plantations and manufacturers sourcing workers from abroad, creating what Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng called an “addiction to low-skilled foreign labor.” The construction industry alone has only been able to hire one-third of the 1.2 million workers it needs, according to the Master Builders Association Malaysia.

Malaysia seeks to tackle the problem by giving monthly wage incentives of as much as 500 ringgit ($120) to workers who get hired locally and up to 250 ringgit for their employers. That’s aimed at reducing the number of foreign workers by 130,000 over five years.

The builders association isn’t optimistic the move will fully resolve the labor issues.

“The measure won’t be too effective in reducing the number of foreign workers, as many foreign workers are employed in jobs which Malaysians are not keen to compete or participate in,” Master Builders Association Malaysia said.


© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.