Malaysia to allow thousands of refugees to work to solve labour crunch
"We know that in Malaysia there are refugees registered with the UN refugee agency. Since they are in Malaysia, we will allow them to work. They will be issued with a temporary work permit," Azmi Khalid, home affairs minister, told AFP.
Volker Turk, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, welcomed the move.
"We hail the decision. It is a way to resolve a human rights issue and resolve the labour crunch in the country," he said.
Malaysia on March 1 launched a controversial operation to round up, whip and deport hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, mostly Indonesians, following the end of a four-month amnesty.
The crackdown has led to acute labour shortages in some sectors.
Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn has said the plantation sector is short of 300,000 workers and the construction sector lacks about 200,000.
Azmi said most of the refugees are from Aceh's separatist war, Rohingyas (Muslims) from Myanmar and from the Philippines.
"Only those who are registered with the UN body would be allowed to work here," he added.
Another minister announced measures to reduce the country's dependence on foreign workers in some sectors.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the levy on foreign workers would be raised between 50 and 100 percent for the services and plantation sectors effective August 1.
"The rationale is we do not want these sectors to resort to employing foreign workers as an easy way to solving their woes but they must give opportunities to local workers," he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
Najib said business in the services sector affected by the levy increase include restaurants, cleaning companies and cargo handling firms.
But the levy for foreign workers in the manufacturing and construction sectors would be maintained at 1,200 ringgit (316 dollars) while for the agricultural sector it would remain at 360 ringgit.
The levy imposed for employing foreign maids has been cut by 50 percent to 600 ringgit.
As part of the government's plan to cut red tape, employers in all industries will be able to submit the names of workers they want to the home affairs ministry for immediate approval.
Some employers say they prefer illegal labour because recruiting foreign workers through proper channels is a lengthy and costly process.
Foreign workers, both legal and illegal, number around 2.6 million of Malaysia's 10.5 million-strong workforce.
Copyright (c) 2005 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 07/05/2005 08:35:51
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