The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the move to freeze recruitment of foreign workers was a positive one that would help to check Malaysia’s dependency on unskilled migrant labour.

Its secretary-general J. Solomon added the announcement by the Human Resources Ministry (MOHR) will also open doors for a comprehensive review of the need to improve salaries and encourages Malaysians to take over jobs traditionally filled by foreigners.

"In freezing the recruitment of foreign workers until year-end, the MOHR must do more to compel employers to woo Malaysian workers by offering decent wages and benefits.

"The government obviously has high hopes that there will be a rush by locals to take over blue collar jobs from foreigners which would include unskilled positions in the construction, plantation and manufacturing sectors," he said in a statement here today.

He added the ministry also needs to convince employers to improve wages and benefits for these positions as otherwise, any government campaign to encourage Malaysians to fill jobs traditionally held by migrants will not make much headway.

Solomon also pointed out that employers have not made any collective effort to push for automation which would provide opportunities for Malaysian workers to enhance their skills and command better wages.

He said there has to be a clear political will from the government to push employers into this direction as well as pay fair and decent wages to Malaysians for blue collar jobs.

At present, he added employers have a free hand to continue with the time and tested practice of hiring foreigners, legally or otherwise, on measly wages and in the process, suppress the salaries of Malaysians on their payroll.

Solomon said the MTUC found that many employers are reluctant even to offer the minimum wage of RM1,200 to foreign workers to keep their costs low and the bottom line healthy, adding that this is an area that the government must tackle earnestly and honestly if it is serious to get locals to take over from migrant workers.

Meanwhile, he also said the Home Ministry's proposal to allow employers to hire illegals under detention is counterproductive.