To date, a number of studies have been conducted on foreign workers issues and they have covered diversified aspects of it in various ways. Although an issues in the past, it has remained contemporary. Accordingly there are some studies which focused more specifically on the issue. In this chapter, it shall review some of the important studies to provide a very brief idea about the issue of foreign workers in construction industry.
Why Foreign Labour in Construction Industry
In the earlier days, most construction workers in the country were locals who were recruited through the “apprenticeship” system (Wong, 2003). In this system, a foreman, usually skilled, will recruit workers within his community, as the need arises. He is responsible to train the workers, including arranging the worksite, material and sequence. These workers were usually paid daily, through the foreman who gets paid for the piecemeal work done or makes fee over each worker under him.
10 In the seventies and early eighties, nearly 70 percent of the foreign workers were concentrated in the construction sector because the country was experiencing a construction boom (Ghosh, 1998). During this construction boom, there was a great influx of foreign workers, predominantly from Indonesia and later, workers from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand. Most of these workers came in either illegally or overstayed their visit pass. Azian (2004) also stated that our local workmen are no longer able to sustain the demand and needs of the industry. The industry in order to maintain the rapid expansion has to opt for foreign worker.
According to another source, the Malaysian construction industry has relied on foreign work force since early 1980s (Ahmad, 1996). Foreign labour started with the plantation sector. Owner argued that they no longer could find local workers willing to work in their estates because of the better salaries and working condition in the manufacturing sector. Soon, the construction sector followed the suit. With this influx of the foreign workers, local apprentices shield away from this trade as they found working alongside these illegal workers not conducive. Further the trade was branded as 3D’s job that are Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning.
At about the same time, local skilled foreman and workers were lured overseas to countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and Japan where they were paid a much more higher salary for their skills. This is why the Construction Industry was left with such a high proportion of foreign workers.
Basic Data on Foreign Labour
Today, it is obvious that the foreign workers are part of Malaysian society. The number of foreign workers in the country can only be estimated. Malaysia in recent years has absorbs large numbers of foreign workers to work in low-paying, low skilled fields.
11 According to an Economic Report 2003/2004, foreigners constitute 9.9% of the total labour force (10,514,900) in 2003. Foreign labour has become an integral part of the Malaysian labour forces, particularly in the construction industry. There are many estimates of foreign workers in Malaysia but the data on the number of foreign workers have to be interpreted with caution because there is no foolproof study or survey giving exact number.
A. Navamukundan (2002) indicated that as at July 1999, the total number of registered foreign workers according to the government was 715,145 of whom 73% were Indonesians, 19% Bangladeshis, 3% Filipinos and the remainder from other nations such as India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. However, all the
Malaysians are aware that the actual number of foreign labour far exceeds this number. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million foreign labour (both legal and illegal) work in Malaysia.
It is also estimated by (Ames, 2001) that there were over 230,000 foreign workers entered the country in 2000, mostly...