(Pic credits to Oxford Business Group)

The unemployment rate in Brunei is a cause of worry that has to be fixed quickly in order for our country to continue to grow and develop sustainably. To accomplish this objective, many noteworthy job creation policies have been created and sustained by the government especially in regards to medium- and high-skilled work. The Pulau Muara Besar project, which was originally initiated and proposed by BEDB, is a prime example of a policy that can generate thousands of jobs for our people.

However more needs to be done. It is the objective of this essay to propose for the government to carry out an active labour policy to absorb the unemployed into the labour force. An active labour policy can be defined as a policy where jobs previously held by non-locals in the private sector should be actively replaced by locals. Training, subsidies and perhaps even the introduction of the minimum wage policy could be introduced to spur locals to take up jobs, particularly low-skilled jobs.

Before anyone evaluate this work as a form of “economic nationalism”, we must consider that providing jobs to the locals is a prime responsibility of all governments in the world today. This includes Brunei. It does not mean that all non-locals should be replaced, but rather that the existing expats and migrant workers should train our locals in a way that our country will eventually achieve self-reliance that will ultimately benefit the socioeconomic development of Brunei and other nations.

Achieving self-reliance in our labour force is key to bolstering our economic performance and would enable us to continually import a larger base of expats and migrant workers to work with the Bruneian workforce. In such a way the cycle of virtuous growth and increased demands for more labour can propel itself sustainably in the many, many years to come. If our people are forever dependent on others then our economic development will not be as enriching than it could otherwise have been for our people and other nationals.

On the subject of Active Labour Policy, it is the primary interest of the government to identify and select industries that are currently ripe for job creation for the locals. These industries include construction, food and beverage, logistics, education, commercial retail stores, and much more. Most of these jobs may be within the fields of low-skilled work, but if worked on or “activated” they should easily create thousands of jobs for the locals.

Next, the Active Labour Policy should be passed into law with legislation enforcing businesses to hire locals or at the very least to give these businesses incentives to hire locals, such as giving them tax-cuts or subsidies. Bus companies in Brunei, for instance, hire non-locals as drivers and conductors. Why should our local buses not be driven by local people? If these bus companies hire locals, hundreds of jobs can immediately be created for our people.

It is extremely saddening to hear that many businesses refuse to hire locals on the basis that they do not “work hard enough” or that they are “lazy”. Whilst some of these allegations may be true, to generalise 12,000 people who are currently unemployed to be within that descriptions is just wrong and it reflects the lack of faith in the Bruneian workforce. Next, it shows that these types of businesses only want people who they can easily control, exploit, and commoditise, i.e. the migrant workers whose passports they could allegedly keep so that they have to work beyond the 8 hour time frame.

To put our people into work, the government must also consider introducing a minimum wage within the industries selected for the policy. No one wants to be paid a pittance of $300 per month or less in a full-time job. Even the Indonesian and Philippines embassies successfully negotiated to raise the minimum wage for their people working in this country to at least $450 per month, as a way to protect and uphold their people’s welfare in their own form of “economic nationalism”.

If they can raise their minimum wage, we can too. Its introduction should not be immediate but rather gradually within a set industry. For instance, a bus driver and a bus conductor should have a minimum wage between $450-$500 per month. If our locals are offered $300 per month, then the government can pay the extra $150 as a subsidy for the company as a short-term incentive to hire and train the labour force.

But if the company still refuses to pay our workers in full, then they should seriously question their allegiance to their country and people, and consider that after all the years of holding the license to operate the company they have failed to pay back the society that has given them much. There has to be an equitable balance between profit and society. In any case, the government should revoke their license and tender them in the open market.

In regards to training, this is easily augmented with the existing IBTE, polytechnic and technical education programmes. If a person lacks the skill-sets then they should be trained on the job so they can operate their duties successfully. In addition, the government can always subsidise a person’s probation period in a company where he or she will be getting the hang of the business before officially starting work.

To conclude, Brunei should introduce an Active Labour Policy to put our unemployed 12,000 people to work. Training, subsidies, or even minimum wages could potentially be incorporated into the job creation programme. We must also understand that it is Brunei’s interest that its people’s welfare will be protected, and that as Brunei succeeds others can join in the growth as well.