Foreign labour cap: Boon or bane?

, National 3 minutes, 47 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE private sector is still facing difficulties employing and retaining Bruneian employees despite the government introducing a policy that restricts the number of foreign workers businesses can hire.

The Ministry of Home Affairs introduced the foreign labour cap in 2014 to reduce unemployment by controlling the number of foreign workers. The policy also requires local businesses to hire more Bruneian workers.

Statistics from the Department of Economic Planning and Development showed that unemployment has decreased last year, but the figures do not take into account of people who did not register as jobseekers with the government.

There were 10,640 local jobseekers in 2015 compared to 14,100 in 2014. The jobseekers were aged from 18 to 59.

In contrast, the ministry had said there were 141,852 foreign workers in the country as of March last year, whereas locals account for about a third or 34 per cent of the workforce in the private sector.

The former minister of home affairs, Yang Berhormat Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman, last year said the government was targeting 66 per cent of locals to work in the private sector. However, he did not provide a timeline of when the government intended to reach the target.

It is not known whether the policy has had a direct impact in reducing the number of foreign workers as latest statistics were not provided by the Labour Department.

A previous report quoting the former minister of home affairs had said foreign workers are employed in all sectors, including in construction and as domestic helpers.

Many companies had voiced their concerns on the effects of the foreign labour cap when it was introduced, saying the policy would have a negative impact on the private sector.

The issue of businesses facing problems recruiting locals is not new.

Previous reports in 2014 and 2015 had reported that businesses were concerned with the government’s decision to introduce the new policy as they had been struggling to cope with Bruneians’ poor work ethics.

The policy includes the immediate revoke of all unused foreign labour quotas, and freeze in issuing foreign labour quota for various posts in the wholesale and retail industry, hospitality, ICT, and support services.

During last year’s Legislative Council sitting, the former minister of home affairs insisted that the policy will not hinder industrial growth and development.

More than a year after the policy was introduced, businesses said they are still struggling to recruit and retain Bruneians.

Mesra Alam Sdn Bhd Director Hamidoon Ja’afar said his company has a high turnover rate of 18 to 20 locals in a year.

He said the policy that forces the private sector to hire at least 50 per cent local employees has hurt his company’s production and sales.

Mesra Alam is a local firm that specialises in the supply of protective gear to energy and construction companies.

“In a year, we have 18 to 20 local employees who quit their jobs after working for two days or three weeks only,” said Hamidoon.

He said the firm has to bear the cost of training when recruiting locals as they are unskilled in sewing and producing protective clothing.

The lack of demand for sewing courses at the Youth Development Centre among locals has prompted the firm to hire skilled foreign labour, said Hamidoon.

“We have no choice but hire foreign workers who tend to stay longer in the industry,” he said.

To make matters worse, he said local parents disapprove of their children working in manufacturing companies as they are required to do manual labour.

He said locals were also put off by the low pay in a small sewing factory like Mesra Alam.

“The normal salary for sewing operators range from $400 to $600 a month. We cannot increase the salary because our number of workers is based on our ouput,” he said.

The firm currently employs 10 locals and 11 foreigners, with the majority of locals working at the management levels.

Meanwhile, Milimewah Department Director Rosmahwati Hj Buntar said her company experiences high turnover rates for part-time local employees.

Milimewah employs about 90 local staff and 70 foreigners in four of its branches.

She said the majority of locals working as part-time employees were recruited from the Local Employment and Workforce Development Agency (APTK).

“We hire the locals from APTK to support the government’s initiative so that we won’t rely on foreigners. However, the problem is that part-time workers sometimes quit after working a day or two without notice. We have to recall our employees during their days off,” she added.

The Brunei Times