PETALING JAYA: Businesses and industries, already reeling from a financially challenging environment, say they are being hit hard by the freeze on new foreign workers.
Many are frustrated by the obstacles they face in getting foreign manpower and feel the ones being hit hardest by the new conditions are law-abiding companies that have been hiring foreign workers legally.
On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the Cabinet had decided not to allow any recruitment of foreign workers into the country except domestic helpers.
He also announced that the deadline of the rehiring programme to legalise existing illegal foreign workers would be brought forward from Dec 31 to June 30.
"I believe these actions are affecting us at the wrong time as the country needs to recover from the global economic downturn," said Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KLSICCI) president Madhu Sudan Nair.
"Sincere and law-abiding businessmen are going to be crippled by this action.
"Now that there is a ban, how do we get new foreign workers?
"Where are we going to find the illegals to register them?" he asked when contacted yesterday.
Madhu said he hoped a dialogue could be held between the private sector and Government to find a solution.
Master Builders Association Malaysia president Matthew Tee said employers would now have to pay about RM4,000 per worker to legalise them, compared with RM300 under the previous 6P plan (for the registration, legalisation, amnesty, supervision, enforcement and deportation of illegal workers) implemented in 2011.
He also said some members had complained that they had difficulty applying to register illegal foreign workers through the Immigration Department's online system.
"Some of my members have tried to apply, but are not successful," said Tee when contacted.
Tee said many employers as well as illegal workers were also worried that they would face punitive measures under the legalising programme.
Penang Master Builders & Building Materials Dealers Asso-ciation president Datuk Lim Kai Seng echoed this view, saying: "Our members are concerned that if they register illegal workers now, they may be charged with harbouring illegal workers, an offence which carries stiff penalties such as whipping."
Lim said the fate of legal foreign workers was also uncertain.
"What will happen to them when their work permits expire? Will they be sent back or will their permits be renewed?.
"If they cannot renew the permits and are sent back, it will be disastrous for the construction sector.
"There is already a shortage of foreign workers in the construction sector.
"Any restriction on their movement into the country may result in the delay and implementation of major infrastructure projects," Lim said.
Malayan Agricultural Producers Association (Mapa) executive director Mohamad Audong said that the high fees to legalise the workers discouraged employers as well as illegal workers in coming forward to register.
"It is also not easy as illegal workers who do not have documents such as passports will need to go to their embassies.
"They cannot get their passports within one day; it takes several days.
"Also, some of these illegals fear being prosecuted," he said.
Mohamad also claimed that the legalising of illegal workers would not benefit the plantation industry as it was "the last choice of sector" for them to work in.