KUALA LUMPUR: There are mixed reactions from restaurant and food stall owners across Malaysia to a call by Human Resource Minister M. Kulasegaran to ban foreign cooks by Jan. 1, 2019.
The government has since changed its tone, on Saturday saying the call was “merely a suggestion,” and it will “consult various stakeholders.”
Some 250,000 foreign workers are employed in service industries in Malaysia, including restaurants, hawker stalls and cafes.
Kulasegaran’s call came amid government attempts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the country.
Adrian Pereira, director of the North South Initiative, a non-profit that promotes the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia, wants the government to engage with all stakeholders to ensure rights-based approaches that are backed by market data.
“We mustn’t forget that there’s a huge informal sector that also hires migrants as cooks,” he said.
“We can’t assign nationality to the work. Once we go down this road, in future work will also discriminate against color, religion etc.”
Suhaila owns a food stall that serves local Malay dishes. She hires only Indonesian cooks, who have been working for her family’s stall for more than a decade.
“They already know how to cook the local dishes, and the food tastes good. There’s no difference,” Suhaila told Arab News, adding that she does not mind employing Malaysians as waiters, but not the cooks as they are her “main source of income.”
She disagrees with Kulasegaran’s call, saying not all local cooks can cook local dishes. She said she once hired a local cook, but the dishes were not as tasty as those made by her Indonesian cooks.
Hamid Khalid, owner of the restaurant Nasi Kandar Arraaziq, agrees with a ban, telling Arab News that he does not hire foreign cooks because customers prefer to eat food made by Malaysians.
But Khalid, whose waiters are mostly foreign, complimented foreign workers for their hard work and low labor cost.
Alex Lee owns the Smokehouse Restaurant, which serves mainly British food. He employs mostly Malaysian cooks, and one foreigner who works as a sous chef.
“From a protectionist and job-security point of view, I think it (a ban) is idiotic,” Lee told Arab News, adding that most food business owners constantly face a shortage of workers.
It is the responsibility of restaurant owners, not the government, to preserve local food’s authenticity, said Lee, cautioning the government against “short-sighted, faux-populist” policies.