LAST week, the arrest of 35 Malaysians by Johor immigration for bypassing the customs checkpoint at the Johor-Singopore border by walking over the railway tracks to beat the causeway jam even though they had valid work permits puts the spotlight on the daily exodus of Malaysians to Singapore to earn a living. Are better career opportunities really the main reason for Malaysians choosing to endure the daily torturous commute?
When the recent toll hikes took effect in September last year, many thought the increase in commuting cost would have an impact on the daily workforce exodus.
Johor human resources and unity executive councillor, R. Vidyanathan had told those who commute from Malaysia to Singapore daily for work to consider taking up a job back in Malaysia to avoid the recent causeway toll hikes.
“To work in Singapore, you will have to leave home as early as 5am and be back by about 9pm. “There is hardly time for a worker to spend time with family or see their children grow up
“Problems including increasing divorce and neglect of family are rampant among those working in Singapore,” he said, as reported in a local news daily.
However, the risks to personal and family life seems a small price for many Malaysians who still choose to work across the causeway. A commuter taking a short cut by walking over the rail line to avoid the early morning jam at the Johor Causeway. — Pic: Sin Chew DailyA commuter taking a short cut by walking over the rail line to avoid the early morning jam at the Johor Causeway. — Pic: Sin Chew Daily
According to the Human Resource Ministry, there are about 350,000 Malaysians working in Singapore, and that another 386,000 Malaysians have permanent residency status there.
One thing worth noting is that Malaysia lost over 145,000 people who are categorized in the Brain Drain category to Singapore, according to 2011 World Bank report.
Besides, the report also concluded that 20 per cent of Malaysian graduates choose to leave the country, again with our neighbouring country – Singapore, cited as the main beneficiary.
Out of the total population of 5.08 million, Singapore has 3.77 million residents, of which 3.23 million were Singapore citizens and 0.54 million were PRs. Surprisingly, or not, this means that about 4 in 10 are not Singaporeans.
However, the number of Singapore PRs grew by 1.5 percent in 2010, a decrease from the minimum 6 percent annual growth noted between 2005 and 2009. Growth in the number of non-residents also slowed to 4.1 percent in 2010, down from the peaks of 15 percent in 2007 and 19 percent in 2008, and the number of Singapore citizens increased by only 0.9 percent.
In 2010, the Singapore Census of Population Advance Census Release revealed some surprising findings about Malaysians in Singapore in which it shows that about 1 in 4 of the resident population – Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) – were not born in Singapore.
More remarkably, of that 23 percent which mentioned above, nearly half were from Malaysia.
If our government is already making conscientious efforts to retain our own workforce, why does this problem persist?
“Work In MY Earn 1 RM; Work In SG Earn 1 SGD. Then 1 SGD Is 2.8 RM”
This was the incredibly simple yet illuminating answer shared on Lowyat forum recently to the question “why so many Malaysian want come Singapore to work ?”
Other amusing answers include one which posted the following equation – “sg engineer celery [salary] = msia directer celery [salary]”.
Many Malaysians today work in Singapore as professionals in banking, construction, engineering, medicine, legal and ICT services, whereas others work in manufacturing and service industry.
The 2011 World Bank report had highlighted that the main cause of emigration of Malaysians to another country is attributed to the less attractive salary and benefits offered at home.
This key attribute is especially noticeable in the high-skilled technology sector although the difference in earnings potential, career prospects, quality of education and quality of life are among the most significant factors. Discontent with Malaysia’s inclusiveness policies was a key factor too.
Prof Dr Shazali Abu Mansor is a senior lecturer in Economics at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)’s Faculty of Economics and BusinessProf Dr Shazali Abu Mansor is a senior lecturer in Economics at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)’s Faculty of Economics and BusinessFor instance, the starting salary for a fresh graduate with a bachelor in Information and Technology Management is $2,900 (RM8,000) in Singapore. Whereas the starting salary is barely RM2,600 in Malaysia and this is further aggravated by other factors such as relatively high taxation, higher crime rates and social discrimination to name a few.
Meanwhile, our country has had a spot of financial trouble lately in which national revenue for the major oil exporter has been hit hard by the slump in oil prices, forcing the government to raise its deficit target for its 2015 Budget.
In an interview with Malaysian Digest, Prof Dr Shazali Abu Mansor (pic), who is a lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)’s Faculty of Economics and Business, said it is a common phenomenon for Malaysians to seek better employment in neighbouring countries, considering that Malaysia has a bleak economic outlook alongside the weakening of the national currency in recent years.
“In this age of globalisation, cross-border labour movement is obviously gaining momentum. These days, workers from a country tend to move and work in another country to seek better job opportunities.
“There are many interlinked factors that contribute to this trend. Among them include the mismatch of skills and expertise, better salary schemes, higher currency exchange rates, healthier working environment, wider workplace exposure and more job opportunities, among others,” he said.
Asked what causes the weakening of the national currency, Shazali said: “There are many underlying factors which contributes to currency’s valuation namely the economic growth, inflation rates, real effective exchange rates, productivity, crude oil price and others. They are all interrelated with each other.”
“In short, a currency’s strength or weakness is basically a reflection of the country’s balance of payments,” he added.
A Firsthand Account From Malaysians Working In Singapore
It is safe to say that the only reason that Malaysians would choose to work and live in Singapore is the higher wages across the causeway. Their modus operandi has always been to work long enough there to save enough Singapore Dollars before they can come back to Malaysia.
Yesterday, Malaysian Digest spoke to some Malaysian professionals who are currently living and working in Singapore as they gave their take on the matter.
Rajkumar Shanmugam, 38, a mechanical engineer who works for a multinational corporation said Singapore is certainly a better country when it comes to seeking employment given that they have high standard of living and low unemployment rate.
“For me, this indirectly shows the high quality working conditions that exist here in Singapore. Strikes or workers’ protests are very rare in Singapore if compared to Malaysia. This is because the employment contracts here are relatively strict and the condition for hiring is considerably relaxed.
However, he said, relative to the average wages of Malaysia and Singapore, the living cost in both countries is almost the same in which our country actually works out to be much cheaper.
Meanwhile, quantity surveyor Shirley Lau of Sarawak, 29, who has been working in Singapore seven years now, said employers in Singapore act comparatively faster compared with their Malaysian counterparts especially when it comes to job hiring.
“In Malaysia, applying for a job vacancy is time-consuming which means job hopefuls need to wait longer to get hired. Although securing a job is getting difficult here, but Singapore has a friendly and competitive environment for foreigners including Malaysians and those from the neighbouring countries,” Lau opined.
She further added that the job opportunity in the both countries is generally the same but Singapore offers wider exposure, healthier working environment, better perks and most importantly higher wages
Candice Ling, 26, who works as an accounts officer also shared her views with us.
“It has been five or six years now since I came here. Although I’m just a ‘foreign worker’ here, but I must say Singapore is an ideal place for one to kickstart his or her career,” she quipped, before adding that working in Singapore can be a rewarding experience as they offer higher wages and better benefits.”
On whether she would recommend her friends to work in Singapore, Ling said: “Yes. It is with no doubt that Singapore is a developed country and that means getting a job is much easier,” adding that Singapore is a safe country where crime rates are relatively low.
Malaysians Choosing To Work In Singapore: Enjoying The Best Of Both Worlds?
In fact, Singapore and Malaysia have plenty of differences although we are so similar in many ways.
To get a quick glimpse of the comparison between the cost of living in both countries, Malaysian Digest has compiled a list of necessities – mainly food, means of transportation and salary and compare the prices between the two countries.
Compiled by Teh Wei Soon — Source: SaveMoney.myCompiled by Teh Wei Soon — Source: SaveMoney.my
Similarly, a survey conducted by Oriental News Daily last year found that most Malaysians working in Singapore had no intention to become citizens of the Republic and all they want was to earn ‘Sing’ dollars.
Many cited that it was too stressful to live in Singapore, and that they love their motherland, Malaysia, deeply. For 22 of the respondents, high standard of living and strict housing policies of the reasons they find the island country unsuitable to live permanently.
They are driven to choose to work in Singapore in view of steep appreciation of Singapore Dollars against Malaysian Ringgit.
A more recent comparative study written by Dr Ong Hean Tee and published in the New Straits Times in April this year also highlighted how many Malaysians are trying to get the best of both worlds by choosing to work in Singapore.
Although the per capita GDP (gross domestic product) of Singapore is very high, at US$55,182, dwarfing Malaysia’s US$10,457, the scenario is the complete opposite when considering local purchasing power. The worker earning average wage in Singapore has 64 per cent the spending power of New York and is below the spending power of the average Malaysian worker who comes in at 67 per cent.
Another factor could be the wage share of GDP in Singapore at 42 per cent is far lower than that of most developed countries, even below Korea and Hong Kong. Its no surprise then that in terms of happiness, Singapore, with a score of 39.8, is ranked six places below Malaysia’s 40.5.
A comparison of the Singapore Central Provident Fund (CPF) with the Malaysian Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) provides some interesting results too. CPF contributors get guaranteed dividends of up to 3.5 percent in their ordinary account. Since 1960, the EPF has returned between 4 and 8.5 per cent to contributors with a dividend of 6.75 per cent in 2014.
While the EPF contributor can withdraw all savings at the age of 55, in Singapore, a sum of S$155,000 has to be set aside as a minimum sum, which the contributor cannot withdraw and has to be utilised for purchase of an annuity to start monthly payments after the age of 65. In Malaysia, one seldom sees old people cleaning toilets or mopping tables at hawker centres, sights very common in Singapore today.
It is far from certain that after a lifetime of work, the Singapore retiree faces a more secure future than his Malaysian counterpart as their guaranteed savings is meaningless to the retiree with inadequate spending power in their own country.
As long as the exchange rate for those earning in Singapore currency remains attractive, there is nothing much either nation can do to stop the economic push-pull factors from running its due course.
If you are one of those considering the lure of earning in Singapore ringgit, remember do not rush into the decision of accepting employment. Besides, you have the right to check on salary package, working days and hours, leave and public holidays, termination of employment as well as other terms and condition of service such as accommodation, termination benefits and requirement of work pass, among others.
So, while the grass seems so much greener in Singapore to Malaysians, many quickly realize that the lucrative remuneration opportunities also come with certain drawbacks. So before you rush to commit to a job in Singapore and abandon your homeland, consider the results of a recent survey which find that 56 per cent of Singaporeans agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Given a choice, I would like to migrate”.