Continuities and discontinuities: Malay workers and migrant workers in the manufacturing industries
In Malaysia, the management of migrant workers interrelates with the management of labour for the export industries. The export sector faces high levels of competition from low wage countries such as Bangladesh, China and Vietnam. Employers find migrant workers, especially females, to be a cheaper and more 'docile' form of labour than are Malaysian workers. The vulnerability of female migrant workers makes them a more manageable workforce, compared to citizens and male migrant workers. According to David Harvey, flexible accumulation requires flexible workers, which means a greater use of contracts, overtime and temporary migrant workers. Both capital and the state benefit because the use of flexible workers implies that workers are temporary and can be disposed of when the demand for labour declines. Local labour organisations and NGOs also argue that it is not so much low wages that employers seek, but the flexibility of hiring and firing at will. This means that Malaysian workers are not affected. Migrant workers keep the export economy afloat by performing the low paid work Malaysian workers shun. To date, migrants in the manufacturing industries comprise about 36 percent of the authorised migrants working in Malaysia. As Juanita Elias has noted in her article, Malaysia is one of the most successful developing countries in the world yet it has continued to depend on migrant workers to fill low-paid manufacturing industry jobs.
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