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More Malaysian eateries might close due to the foreign labour restrictions

Mamak workers feedme

With the government taking greater enforcement on foreign labour, we might have no one to serve us at the mamaks anymore in the near future

Many of us take our local eateries for granted. After all, they’re mostly always there and in the case of mamaks, opened for 24 hours a day. It’s wonder to see how some of these mamaks operate throughout the day, especially their workers. The work is hard and since it’s 24 hours, long as well (despite the shift work). It won’t be surprising that not many locals would be keen on taking on such jobs, at least not for the wages most of these workers are paid.

However, there’s a possibility that we might see more and more local eateries, be they mamaks or other restaurants, start closing down. This is because the Malaysian Government has decided to get tough on the enforcement of labour rules at these eateries.

Already, according to a report by the Straits Times, thousands of Malaysian eateries have had to close down in 2017 because of tougher enforcement of foreign labour laws here. This has caused a shortage of service workers in the industry forcing many shops to close not because of a lack of business but because there just aren’t enough workers to service the customers.

Why would tougher enforcement cause such a situation? That’s because according to Malaysia’s labour laws local eateries are only allowed to hire foreigners as cooks and not as wait staff, servers or cashiers. So you see the problem. If you were to go to most eateries in Malaysia these days, especially mamaks, you’ll notice that the majority of the wait staff are actually foreign. For the 24 hour mamaks, they are usually from Bangladesh while for the Chinese coffee shops you’ll notice that a lot of the wait staff are Burmese.

With the tougher law enforcement, a lot of these wait staff would have to be let go as they do not fit with our foreign labour laws.

“It’s not just cooks we’re running short of, we don’t have enough waiters,” said Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas) president T. Muthusamy.

Wouldn’t hiring local workers solve the problem? It might but there are issues there as well. While some restaurateurs say that no locals are willing to work the long hours, there are others who say there are but it comes with additional costs.

Local hires are available “provided you reward and pay them a reasonable wage”, said Ms Sherlene Siew, who owns and runs a mid-range cafe in Bukit Bintang offering fusion food.

Reasonable wage means a higher wage than what’s being paid to the foreign workers and with higher wages, the business owners would have to offset it by increasing the food prices, which in the end, Malaysians will have to stomach. Now for higher-end restaurants, the cost offset might not be noticeable but for lower priced outlets like mamaks and coffee shops, Malaysians might soon notice a price increase.

“Mamaks sell cheap food. If we get locals as front-liners, it’ll greatly increase the food cost,” said Mr Muthusamy.

How about automation? That is an option but restaurateurs say that time is needed to adapt to these changes maybe up to half a decade. So what about in between then?

As a result quite a number of eateries have resorted to hiring illegal workers in order to fill in the labour shortage. According to Muthusamy, it’s not that they want to but what choice do they have?

What do you think? Should local eateries be less dependent on foreign labour or should the government ease up a bit on these restaurants?

Source: The Straits Times

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