It used to be that less than 10% of the market’s workforce were locals, Edmund Santhara told FMT. But that was before the restraints on foreign workers brought about by the lockdown.
“Now, there are 16 foreign nationals with papers,” he said.
“It’s a myth that without foreigners, wholesale markets cannot operate.”
He said traders had paid illegals and Rohingya RM50 to RM60 per day for an eight-hour shift. However, locals are now receiving RM100 per day.
“It’s all about the economics,” he said, adding that the market is currently operating at 65% capacity.
“Previously, when cheap labour was available, this was done due to economic reasons. Now, the traders are against the wall. They have no choice.”
The Kuala Lumpur Vegetable Wholesalers Association said last week that locals did not want to work at the market as it was dirty.
Its vice-president Chong Tek Keong said the government would need to keep the market clean, with a good garbage disposal system in place.
He also mentioned complaints of gangsterism in the area.
“We found the Rohingya to be hardworking and they are fast at their job. To employ more locals, we need the government to help us to improve the place,” he added.
He also said operations would be slow for a while as the traders would need to train the new workers.
Another trader who wanted to be known as Khairuddin said locals were not keen to work at the wet market as there were no EPF or Socso benefits.
“If the government could look at this, a lot more jobless Malaysians would work here,” he said.
Santhara, who is deputy federal territories minister, said plans are afoot for the market to be cleaned and modernised.
He also said the home ministry would look into the complaints of gangsterism while the human resources ministry should introduce minimum wages, overtime claims, social security claims and EPF benefits for local workers.
If the traders themselves would invest in modern equipment, he said, they would only need about 1,500 workers instead of the 3,000 estimated by Chong before the EMCO.
The area surrounding the Selayang wholesale market was placed under lockdown on April 20. This is expected to continue until May 3.