Monday September 24, 2012
Companies in desperate tug-of-war over general workers
By STEPHEN THEN
MIRI: The shortage of general workers in Sarawak has reached a point of desperation.
It is learnt that rival companies, factories, industries, plantation and agriculture estates are pinching workers from each other, waging an all-out “wage confrontation” to lure as many workers as they can from their competitors.
The situation is said to be made worse by the fact that it is getting increasingly difficult to source for foreign workers while those foreign workers currently working in Sa-rawak have also become pinching ‘targets’.
The Star spoke to two prominent people who are in the know as to this problem — Bintulu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Datuk Sia Hiong Ngie and Datuk Seri Peter Chin, the former Plantation and Commodities Minister who is now Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister.
Sia and Chin said the severe shortage of general workers had indeed become a major problem that had economic repercussions.
According to Sia, in Bintulu, the upcoming multi-billion ringgit industries mushrooming in the centre of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) belt, are desperately sourcing for workers to the tune of thousands per recruitment drive.
Sia said in order for these international companies to start their pro-jects, they required a lot of workers, especially at the construction stages.
“Last time, most of the construction workers are from Indonesia. Now, there are not enough Indone-sian workers anymore.
“Out of desperation, companies are looking at recruiting general workers from mainland China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Thailand and the Philippines to train them in construction.
“However, these foreign workers after getting trained here, become the target of rival competitors who offer them better wages to lure them away,” Sia said.
In agricultural estates, he said Indonesian workers were also being paid high wages by rivals desperate to get them.
“In the SCORE belt, I heard that even the technical workers are in great demand. The pinching of workers involves not only general workers, but also the technical staff,” he said when interviewed.
Sia hoped that the coming Budget to be tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak in Parlia-ment end of this month would be able to deal with this growing problem.
Chin, who is Miri MP, said in his experience as a minister, he had found that the shortage of workers could hinder economic growth.
“Yes, it is a problem that is growing and I think it will get worse. There is no concrete solution in sight because the need for workers will always balloon and it will always supercede the number of available workers.
“The demand will always be way above the supply,” he said.
However, Chin felt that one of the ways to mitigate the situation would be for companies and industries to look at improving their working system by mechanisation and automation which should reduce the need for human labour.
Chin said from his experience as plantation minister, there was no way the country could get enough foreign workers to meet demand that grew by the year.
He hoped that the coming Budget would see a better mechanism put in place to enable more local workers to be trained faster.