SHAMSUDIN Mohamad works all day as a parking attendant and security guard and believes fellow Malaysians will do similar menial, low-paying jobs if not for the lack of opportunities and a preference for foreign labour.
“I’ve done many jobs before. I don’t have a proper educational background, so I take up any job that I can do, even as a street cleaner. I cannot live if I don’t do any work,” he told The Malaysian Insight, speaking while giving out parking tickets to vehicles driving into the car park.
The 50-year-old is one of the many Malaysians who still outnumber foreigners in so-called “dirty, dangerous and difficult” (3D) jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, according to data from the Department of Statistics.
The department’s Economic Census 2016 on employment and salaries and wages found 1.571 million Malaysians in manufacturing and more than 500,000 non-citizens in the sector. Manufacturing had the highest concentration of migrant workers compared with other sectors.
In construction, there were 828,000 Malaysian workers and about half the number or 463,000 foreigners.
Malaysian workers were the highest in the services sector with 4.635 million people, while the data was only available for 249,000 foreigners in the agricultural sector.
Shamsudin, who has worked at different parking lots around Kuala Lumpur for the past six years, earns RM2,000 a month for a 14-hour shift daily, from 7am to 9pm.
The amount pays for three meals daily and for transportation around the city. The bachelor lives alone in a wooden shed erected at the parking lot by the landowner. Shamsudin considers himself lucky to have “free” accommodation in the middle of the city.
Expressing shock when told that some graduates earn just as much as he does a month, he said he observed that very few locals are hired in low-skilled jobs.
“I see that many foreign workers are still dominating low-skilled jobs so locals don’t have the opportunity.
“Foreign workers get paid less but the amount is a lot for them. A friend told me that when he goes back to his country, he is a king because he earns a lot in our country,” Shamsudin said.
Like Shamsudin, a sizeable chunk of the Malaysian labour force does not have tertiary education.
Most Malaysian workers have basic education, with form five or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or equivalent holders comprising 3.727 million workers or 42.7% in 2015, said Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Shamsuddin Bardan.
This was an increase from 2.924 million workers (42.1%) with SPM or equivalent qualification in 2010.
Correspondingly, only one-third of employed people are in the professional or skilled category, while around 60% of the labour force is in semi-skilled jobs and around 12% to 13% are in low-skilled jobs, according to the Department of Statistics.
Unemployment as of last November was at 3.3%.
Another guard, a 31-year-old working in Subang Jaya, who wanted to be known only as Amy, is one of the millions in the elementary occupation category.
With only a SPM certificate, he has only ever held down low-skilled jobs after leaving school.
“I used to work at a factory in Johor. And then I worked in Singapore while still living in Johor, so I had to travel back and forth.
“I got into an accident one day while I was on my way to get my salary in Singapore,” he said.
The Kelantan native said he could not find work in his home state and his physical injury also limited his options, so he accepted the offer to work as a guard from a friend.
He earns RM1,500 monthly and admits that it is not enough but it helps that he hardly shops nor hangs out with friends.
“There are many jobs for locals if they are willing to look for them but there are some who are lazy and picky.
“I brought a friend to work with me as a guard but he quit after two days because he was embarrassed. Why would you feel embarrassed? The job is halal,” said Amy, adding that he hoped to save enough to move back to Kelantan.
Contract worker Mohd Fadil said Malaysians should not be picky because there is competition between local and foreign workers for menial jobs.
“Maybe some companies prefer to hire foreign workers as they can pay less compared with hiring Malaysians. That’s why Malaysians should not be picky,” said the 25-year-old whose job is to change advertisement billboards late at night.
The SPM-holder moved to Kuala Lumpur from Perak after form five. His night job is erratic and pays RM100 to RM150 per night, provided there is work, so he also drives a lorry during the day, enabling him to earn around RM2,500 a month.
“I send most of my income to my parents and the rest of it I use to pay bills and other basic needs,” he said when met at work one evening outside the Kuala Lumpur City Hall building where he was changing a signboard on the pedestrian walkway.
Ehsan, a cleaner with waste management company Alam Flora, said he had little choice but to clean pedestrian walkways from 10.30pm to 5.30am, five nights a week, and drive for Grab during the day in order to bring home RM2,000 a month.
The 33-year-old, who would only give his first name, said his two jobs earned him more than the food stall he used to run in the city.
“There are five members in my family. What I earn is not enough, that’s why I drive Grab during the day.”
Cheaper to hire foreigners
While workers like him and Fadil hold two jobs or do contract work to make ends meet, Malaysians like them are considered costly to hire from an employer’s perspective.
The Institute of Labour’s Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA) national labour cost survey in 2016 found that the total cost of hiring a Malaysian employee was 38% more than hiring a foreign worker.
This was for workers in the elementary occupation category (plant and machine operators, assemblers) which employed 45% of all foreign workers in Malaysia as of June 2016.
However, the findings, related to The Malaysian Insight by MEF’s Shamsuddin, did not include the levy cost of an average RM1,200 per foreign worker, which was borne by the worker. Starting this year, employers will have to bear the cost of the foreign worker levy.
MEF said this could lead to better job opportunities in 2018 for Malaysians with SPM-level qualifications, as the cost of hiring foreign workers is expected to increase.