Greener pastures – Can we replace a brain drain through migrant labour?

The concept of greener pastures is simple – the perception of better conditions overseas leads to migration of Malaysians out of the country, and allowing those from other nations into our country.

It isn’t exactly revolutionary in any sense, since it is actually the idea of globalisation and its impact on the workforce.

Thus, it justifies Malaysians moving for better jobs, better pay, better conditions overseas – while those from less fortunate nations and lower currency rates come to Malaysia for the same purpose.

Yet at the same time, we do limit which areas migrant labour takes. Case in point, we are more keen to bring in cheap labour for jobs in certain sectors and leave executive posts for local graduates and even – separate from migrant labour – “expatriates”.

But what if we liberalise the entire job market? Obviously, Malaysian talent has been accepted worldwide. If not, why are people migrating?

Thus, would it also mean that the accreditations brought forth by foreign nationals should also be accredited here in Malaysia?

This would be a boon for employers who wish to hire more executive posts when the Malaysian talent pool is lacking in soft skills, as highlighted for years through the Jobstreet surveys.

At the same time that we are focused on the lack of Malaysian graduates and their abilities in English, or even in communicating for that matter, other nations have graduates who can cater to these needs should we be open enough to bring them in.

As such, why isn’t Malaysia doing this?

For most part, it is an issue of protectionism by politicians on both sides of the divide – more so for the Opposition, while the government prefers to play the good guy and then sign multiple memorandas of understanding to bring in foreign workers.

Yet at the same time, it is also an issue with demands in salaries and wages. A global workplace demands global salaries. And quite honestly, Malaysia is far behind when it comes to offering better salaries and benefits compared to other countries.

And, of course, it is a matter of currency values as well. Why work in Malaysia compared to working for the Singapore Dollar or even the Sterling for that matter?

Well for one thing, it is easier to get into Malaysia than Singapore or the United Kingdom for work. Secondly, it is the exclusion from migrant workers from being taxed or even contributing to state holdings such as the Employee Providence Fund (EPF).

Not so much their fault, but due to them not earning enough for either as dictated by law. Something perhaps the government is keen to look into considering the amount of outflow for our currency.

But more than this, it is also the fact that employers themselves are willing to cater to the basic needs that migrant labour finds acceptable – sharing a hostel with multiple workers, enough pay to survive here and still contribute what we consider meagre to a family which converts it to enough for an entire months spending and some savings.

The reason they can afford such is the conversion rate and of course, the fact that they don’t pay taxes or even the EPF, and also the fact that they survive through collective living.

But with an expatriate workforce or even to bring in executive level migrant employees, Malaysia might not have the same attraction unless benefits and allowances are aplenty.

This is where Malaysia could in fact, grow, and has been doing for Kuala Lumpur.

Yet, this is not a national movement just yet. The number of executive level foreign workers is few, most of which being in menial labour or upper management (the “expats”).

A few things go into improving conditions for the foreign workforce – including public transport, better urban planning, a greater range of financial services and such – which is making Malaysia more attractive.

Especially, of course, for the richer foreign labour workforce.

And yet, there is a need to consider the following; do we really need to help people who refuse to help themselves?

The Malaysian government can only do so much to fund education of students to the point that it no longer makes sense financially, especially when it comes to soft skills that should be developed by themselves and not through the education system.

The education teaches you English, it is up to you to put it into practice and beyond. Similar to communication and critical thinking. And even common sense for that matter.


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