Last updated Monday, July 28, 2014 02:00pm

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — The crackdown to flush out illegal immigrants, for all its noble intentions, has led to a severe shortage of labour in certain industries.

Industries particularly in manufacturing, plantation smallholdings and restaurants are dependent on foreigners. Malaysians tend to shy away from such jobs. Business operators are suffering losses as they are unable to meet demand owing to the worker shortage.

Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) said the nationwide arrests had deterred legitimate as well as illegal workers from turning up for work. Its president Matthew Tee said it would take the industry a long time to recover from the shortage of workers.

“Most workers — legal and illegal — have fled the work sites out of fear,” Matthew said.

He said there was inconsistency in enforcement by the authorities. The detention period was not fixed and the wait to obtain work permits — up to eight months — forced employers to hire illegal workers.

Tee said one way to reduce illegal foreign workers was to reduce red tape and shorten the length of time to bring legal foreign workers into the country.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said they did not object to efforts to nab illegal immigrants. But various industries were facing hardship as there was a drastic lack of labour supply, with no alternatives in the market.

“The stakeholders and the government must resolve this together to improve the supply of workers,” Shamsuddin said. “Improvements could include setting up a labour supply bank catering to specific industries.

“The cost of labour might be higher but it will allow companies to use these workforce upon receiving a project.”

He felt more foreign workers would not come to work in the following months.

Malaysian Palm Oil Association director Ravindranath G. Menon said about 90 per cent of the plantation owners employed legal foreign labour. Smallholders used a large number of illegals.

“Based on recent figures released by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, there are 625,000 plantation workers of whom 475,000 are foreigners. Most of them are paid the minimum wage or their pay is based on how much they produce.”

The illegal labour market has mushroomed from the reliance on foreign workers. The Home Ministry launched a large-scale operation on September 2 to nab illegal immigrants after having given notice under the 6P amnesty programme that started in 2011.

The raids by the Immigration Department resulted in the arrest of 2,433 people comprising 717 Indonesians, 555 Myanmar nationals, 387 Bangladeshis and 229 Nepalese. The rest were from Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, China, Nigeria and Thailand. Some 8,000 foreigners were checked.

The crackdown is part of the government’s effort to get an accurate list of the number of foreign workers in the country, and to weed out illegal workers.