In reply to Murtabak Fan in his article “Foreign worker shortage in the way of recovery”(May 14, 2022), I would say downplaying the strategic effort to reduce local unemployment by calling for more foreign workers for his sake of getting his murtabak or getting his haircut by foreigners is short-sighted and ineffective to tackling local unemployment. 

For one, local unemployment merits attention. Without jobs, our people cannot sustain their livelihoods and secure a decent living. Unemployment skyrockets income inequality, which can bring about instability for our society. With over 16,234 unemployed in 2019, the straightest path to create employment is to restrict foreigners to enter and work in Brunei.

Indeed, the MPEC has managed to match 12,763 jobseekers with vacancies in 2020, surpassing its target of 12,355 in the private sector according to the Labour Force Survey 2019. From this figure, 10,561 people found work in the private sector. Had foreigners flood in, that would be 10,561 of lost job opportunities for Bruneians in the sector.

The reason why the companies Mr Murtabak mentioned are suffering manpower shortage is precisely because they are actively refusing to do their part to contribute to the society by updating their HR system to fit Bruneian labour expectations. Instead, many HRs or foreign Ali Baba owners prefer to game the system to give false ads on our job centre website so they can get foreign worker quotas. 

With the foreign companies not willing to adapt by giving back to Brunei society, is there any wonder why they fail? It must be stressed the reason why foreign companies are successful in the first place is because local Bruneians make up the bulk of their customers. So for these companies to complain about Brunei workforce and to call for more foreigners to come in is showing ingratitude and lack of cooperation.

Increasing the wages, giving a good living condition, and providing proper compensation and training are some of the reforms needed to retain and hire Bruneian workers. It sickens me to hear every time people stereotype Bruneian labour in a negative light. If one were to look closely, it is because of their outdated HR policies that treat humans as slaves. No wonder Bruneians refuse to work there. People want decent jobs and decent pay. Offer these, Bruneian labour will work!

To conclude, whether it is hiring chefs or barbers, Bruneian workers must be prioritised above all. We should not be short-sighted by continually relying on foreigners. Relying on foreigners is a short-term solution that will only drive up joblessness and income inequality for Bruneians. Hiring locals is the way to go.