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Johor businesses face labour crunch as workers lured across Causeway by strong Singdollar

KUALA LUMPUR - Business has picked up in Johor following the reopening of the Malaysia-Singapore land borders on April 1, but many are feeling the heat of a manpower crunch.

The strong Singapore dollar has lured scores of Johoreans to seek jobs across the Causeway, heightening pressure on the consumer sectors already hit by staff attrition during the pandemic.

"We have a shortage of manpower, especially in the food and beverage, reception and housekeeping departments," said New York Hotel general manager Tan Ai Lee, adding that some of the hotel's existing workers had also left for jobs in the city-state.

"I need at least another 20 workers or more. For the past one week with the Hari Raya festivities, we were lucky to get foreign workers in as part-timers to help us clean the rooms.

"The currency exchange rate is really attractive for Malaysians to work in Singapore. We cannot match the salary in Singapore, as it is too high after conversion," she said.

The Singapore dollar hit an all-time high at 3.1665 to the Malaysian ringgit on April 25 - a 2.72 per cent rise from 3.0857 on Dec 31 last year - as the Monetary Authority of Singapore tightened its monetary policy and the ringgit took a steep slide against the US dollar.

The Singapore dollar is currently hovering around RM3.15.

Dr Sri Ganesh Michiel, deputy president of the Malaysia Budget and Business Hotel Association, said: "After the borders reopened, around 80 per cent of Malaysians who were working in Singapore previously, opted to go back to Singapore to work, mainly due to the currency exchange rate. This left local businesses with a shortage of manpower."

"Hotel businesses need to find solutions in order to survive or close. This needs serious attention by the Malaysian government."

Mr C. S. Lim, vice-president of the Malaysian Association of Hotels, said the shortage of workers in the hotel industry is felt in many states and not just Johor.

"Many hotel and tourism workers have left their jobs in the wake of the pandemic to pursue other options after the industry was hit hard and are now reluctant to return despite signs of strong recovery," said Mr Lim, noting that many foreign workers also returned to their home countries in the past two years due to the pandemic.

Johor opposition leader Liew Chin Tong from the Democratic Action Party urged the state government and employers to provide salaries of at least two-thirds of what they could earn in Singapore.

"Many Johoreans work in Singapore because wages in the state and other parts of Malaysia are too low, made worse by the huge difference in currency exchange," Mr Liew said on Facebook on May 1.

"In Johor, a good job with decent pay means providing at least two-thirds of Singapore's salary."

For example, if a semi-skilled Malaysian worker was paid $2,000 a month, they would be happy to work in Malaysia if they were offered salaries of between RM3,000 and RM4,000, he added.

"The gap in income is filled with better quality of life and more time spent with their families at home."

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