Sheriff: Unionise foreign workers to improve labour situation Former treasury secretary-general says allowing foreign workers to join unions will lead to increase in wages and reduce the need to source labour from overseas.


KUALA LUMPUR: A former senior finance ministry official has suggested that foreign workers be allowed to join trade unions as it could help reduce the country’s dependence on labour from overseas in the long run.Mohd Sheriff Kassim, who was treasury secretary-general in the early 1990s, said foreign workers becoming part of the unions would lead to an increase in wages. “It will see employers having less incentive to search for cheap labour and bring in thousands of them from outside (the country),” he said at a forum titled “Envisioning the Future : Malaysia Beyond GE14” here last night.Sheriff, a founding member of the Group of 25 eminent Malays comprising former civil servants and diplomats, also said that trade unionism was part of human rights and should be encouraged.
“If wages rise, it will be good for all workers,” he said.Prominent economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram agreed with Sheriff on the unionisation of foreign workers but admitted that it would be an uphill task.He said he had made a similar call when local companies started bringing foreign workers into Malaysia in the 1980s, but it was opposed by certain parties, including unions and the DAP.“And I’m not sure if their positions have actually changed as much,” he said. “It is not a simple issue and I’m not sure if it’s something people would consider very seriously.”As of June 30 this year, there were 1.78 million foreign workers recorded in Malaysia, the majority comprising Indonesians, Nepalis and Bangladeshis. Last year, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Putrajaya had no choice but to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over a period of three to five years as youths were not keen to take on jobs labelled as “dangerous, dirty and difficult” (3D).

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