ON the face of it, the decision to revoke the visas of some 55,000 Bangladeshi workers appears to be the correct thing to do. With thousands of Malaysians already laid off and more expected to be retrenched as the economic slowdown continues to take its toll on the job market, it would have been "untenable", as the vice-president of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress put it, to bring in more foreign workers. To be sure, in these hard economic times, the priority should be on hiring Malaysians and reducing the dependence on foreign labour.
That said, however, it would appear that the workers from Bangladesh have been given a raw deal. After all, they have followed procedures, obtained the necessary documents, and had been promised that jobs were waiting for them. To add insult to their injury, while the employers who had paid for the visas and levies will be recompensed, there is little likelihood of a refund of the large sums of money these workers paid their recruiters.
As it is, neither the visas of workers from other countries have been cancelled nor has there been a blanket ban on foreign workers. Our embassy in Kathmandu has given an assurance to Nepalese that they are free to work in Malaysia except in the manufacturing and service sectors, and our ambassador to the Philippines has been quoted as saying that jobs are still available. As such, the excuse that the visas were approved in 2007 when there was a real need, but have now been rescinded because there is no longer any necessity, just does not wash.
As the home minister has reiterated, there is still a need for foreign workers in the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs that Malaysians shun, a situation underlined by the conspicuous exclusion of the plantation and construction industries from the twofold increase in the levy on foreign workers in the recent mini-Budget. Given that the workers from Bangladesh were going to work in the very sectors where labour is scarce and jobs are available, such as plantations and construction, the decision to single them out appears unfair.
As it is, shutting the door on Bangladeshis will not make more jobs available to Malaysians. Unless things become so grim that Malaysians are forced to turn to the 3D jobs, or employers make genuine attempts to employ locals by making wages and working conditions more attractive, it is more likely that these jobs will go to other foreign workers.