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Hwok-Aun Lee: Malaysia needs a coherent labor policy

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A worker from Bangladesh scans his fingerprints into the biometric fingerprinting system in Putrajaya in 2011 as part of the program to register foreign workers.   © Reuters

Malaysia's policies toward migrant labor are as fickle and confused as ever. The country's latest five-year development plan, unveiled last May, set a high-priority goal of reducing dependency on foreign migrant labor; it set a target of reducing the share of foreigners in the workforce to 15%. They now account for 25-35%, a wide range that reflects varying estimates of the number of undocumented workers.

     Just a month after the presentation of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan, Minister of Home Affairs Zahid Hamidi talked of a proposal to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over three years. The plan was widely denounced by organized labor, civil society and even employers as undermining long-term labor policy objectives and negating measures to register and formalize undocumented workers. Information on the exact number of workers to be imported and the sectors demanding such labor was left opaque.

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