Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 5 News List

`Amnesty' program leaves Malaysia short of workers

CRACKDOWN Malaysia has promised to take back the foreign workers who left voluntarily by March first, provided they return with the proper documentation

AP , KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

Indonesian migrant workers being led to check their immigration status by Malaysian authority officers, during an early morning operation outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 1. Malaysia launched a crackdown on illegal immigrants in its campaign to track down, arrest and deport all who did not take advantage of an amnesty which ended a week ago.

PHOTO: EPA

A crackdown that forced tens of thousands of mostly Indonesian illegal workers out of Malaysia has created a shortfall of cheap labor in critical industries, a newspaper reported yesterday.

Malaysian officials said bureaucratic bottlenecks at Indonesian emigration centers charged with providing proper documentation to Indonesians so they can return to work legally in Malaysia is endangering its construction and plantation sectors.

A program allowing Indonesians who left Malaysia under a recently ended amnesty to legalize themselves in Indonesia has come to a virtual standstill because of administrative delays there, The Star newspaper reported.

"I think it is in Indonesia's benefit to facilitate the workers' return because Malaysia has already done its part. Otherwise, we may have to source workers from other countries," the newspaper quoted the Malaysian Employers' Federation president, Mohamad Jafar Abdul Carrim, as saying.

No immediate comment from Jakarta on the report was available.

About 450,000 illegal workers are believed to have left Malaysia during the amnesty period, which ended Feb. 28.

An estimated 400,000 still remain in the country. The amnesty has been followed by a raid-and-arrest crackdown at work sites, which has netted nearly 1,000 workers so far.

Foreign workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and India form the backbone of Malaysia's construction and plantation industries, doing low-paid jobs that Malaysians won't do.

About 1 million of them work legally.

Malaysia has promised to take back workers who left voluntarily during the amnesty program, provided they come in with proper papers.

As part of a deal made with Malaysia, Indonesia set up one-stop centers to process applications from Malaysian employers to legalize their former Indonesian employees.

But at one such center in Indonesia not one application has been approved in the last 10 days, The Star reported.

Home Minister Azmi Khalid and a team of officials are currently in Jakarta to meet top Indonesian officials to resolve the problem.

"We acknowledge that there is bottleneck and hope to sort things out with our counterparts here," Immigration Department enforcement director Ishak Mohamed was quoted as saying.

Mohamad Jafar of the employers' federation said at least two main economic sectors -- construction and plantations -- were critically hit by the delay in getting the workers back.

"House buyers face not getting their homes delivered on time, and developers will be liable for not completing their projects within the stipulated timeframe," he told the newspaper.

Mohamad Jafar said Indonesians made up 90 percent of the labor force in the construction industry, and between 50 percent and 60 percent on plantations.

Human Resources Minister Foong Chan Onn said Malaysia is already looking at other sources of labor such as Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

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