Between a rock and a hard place - Rencana | mStar

Between a rock and a hard place

Ensuring that foreign workers are laid off first in these trying times is the easy thing. Ensuring they return to their country is another task altogether.

WITH the global economic downturn now in its full fury, the question on the minds of many around the world is whether they will be the next to lose their job.

Already, a great number of people from production line workers to high-flying investment bankers have been or will be given the pink slip, and the global tide of retrenchment does not look like it will ebb any time soon.

If the Big Three in the American auto industry — Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — go bust, then hundreds of thousands of Americans who work at these companies will be shown the door. Companies that rely on the three auto makers for business will also be affected, and they too will be forced to lay off employees.

Over on our shores, the concern over retrenchment is rising, with many manufacturers resorting to extended leave for their workers and shutdown days to cut costs in the face of plummeting demand for their goods.

If things get any worse, it would only be a matter of time before companies and businesses start retrenching workers on a more significant scale, and in some cases, there could even be total shutdowns.

It is a worry, made especially so given the fact that Malaysia has nearly three million foreign wor-kers, which is equivalent to about 25% of the total workforce, according to Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.

There are already calls from vario-us concerned parties urging employers faced with the need to cut their workforce to ensure that their foreign workers are “let go” of first before the axe lands on local employees.

It is ironic that Malaysia’s mi-grant workforce, whose large presence has been a sore point for many Malaysians for some time now, are providing a sort of retrenchment “buffer” for local workers in these trying times.

If not for these people, it would be doubtful if our projected unemployment rate of 4% next year would be achievable. Now that’s the “good” news.

The bad news is that while employers who retrench foreign workers have been warned that they must ensure the workers are sent back to their home countries, it is not too difficult to see why some of these employers might not relish incurring the cost of repatriation.

In addition, I also doubt that out-of-work foreigners would jump for joy at the thought of going back to their kampungs, for there is a very good reason why they came to Malaysia in the first place: Jobs in their home countries were hard to come by.

With the economic crisis engulfing just about every corner of the world, it is unlikely that things have changed or will change in the near future back home.

So, will we be awash with unemployed foreigners lingering here as they have no better place to go? I don’t know, but the factors that could lead to such a scenario are not beyond reason or the possible.

Retrenchment is a real prospect facing the country, and, during the worst of times, good people can also get the sack, as we have seen elsewhere in the world.

Heck, it even happens in the political scene. Just this past Wednesday, former Cabinet minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim was given the boot by Umno for dallying with the Opposition.

Zaid had recently attended a couple of events organised by Opposition parties, the last being the PKR congress held over the weekend.

Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the drastic action was required because “Zaid’s action in attending functions and being seen with Opposition leaders are against the party’s ethics.”

He added the party was always consistent and that it cannot be seen practising double standards.

Given what has been written about Zaid in newspapers and magazines, most people would likely conclude that he is a man with a good heart. It is unfortunate that a person such as Zaid is no longer an Umno member, as the party could use a man like him.

That said, he has detractors within Umno who feel that the party has no use for a man like him.

Abdullah’s remarks suggest that Zaid had to be sacked because he broke party rules, and not because his principles, views and ideas were not welcome. Which makes his sacking even more unfortunate, as Umno has been quite tolerant in the case of several other members.

A few months ago, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah met Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in what was described as a “hush hush” meeting. Tengku Razaleigh, like Zaid, is also a man of principles, with views and ideas that do not necessarily gel with the rest of Umno. He remains a member.

There is also Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who made some pretty strong remarks about Umno and its leadership. At one point, there were comments that he was worse than the Opposition in his criticism. Umno did not sack him; he quit the party and said he would only return when Abdullah steps down.

Dr Mahathir, like Tengku Razaleigh and Zaid, is also a man of principles. If he does decide to return, there is a pretty good chance Umno will acce-pt him back. And who can forget the one-man army that was Datuk Shahrir Samad of old?

The economy is not the only thing that currently troubles our nation. There are also tremendous strains in the fabric of our society, which is making things even more difficult.

In times like these, it makes good sense to hang on to people who can and do make sense.

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