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KL Wet Market Traders Are Struggling To Run Their Business Without Migrant Workers

KL Wet Market Traders Are Struggling To Run Their Business Without Migrant Workers

Tasneem Nazari

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Traders at wet markets are struggling to operate ever since Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa released a directive to stop foreigners from working in wholesale markets under the Federal Territories’ jurisdiction.

Lau, a third-generation market trader who spoke to Malay Mail explained how the lack of migrant workers at the market has affected her business.

Working out of the Pudu wet market for the past 20 years after taking over from her parents, Lau described a typical day of work at the market and how migrant workers contribute to the market’s daily operations.

Managing a stall at the wet market is no easy task, as days usually start as early as 3am with her migrant employees unloading fresh produce from vendors’ vehicles and carting them to stalls before arranging and repacking the produce to be sold.

Workers unloading fresh produce from vendors’ vehicles in the early hours of the morning. (Credit: Malay Mail)

Then, business is non-stop from 5am to 12pm while customers arrive to shop. After 12pm, her workers clean and put away everything to close shop for the day. Some traders keep working until 5.30pm, with their migrant workers helping them unload more fresh produce for the following day. All before starting work again at 3am.

However, after the directive, traders have been prohibited from hiring migrant workers. Instead, they have been advised to hire locals to fill vacancies.

There is no one to help us load fresh produce at the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market.

Lau via Malay Mail

Lau shared that vendors refuse to sell to traders who are unable to unload the fresh produce from the vehicles themselves, and Lau can’t do that on her own. So, she’s had no choice but to carry whatever she can and reduce her usual intake of stock – meaning she also makes less in sales.

Migrant workers are willing to do the tough jobs, work long hours and multitask. (Credit: Malay Mail)

Her experience has taught her that locals tend to be more selective with jobs and demand to do only packing or sales. They are also often reluctant to do any tough tasks like heavy lifting or cleaning and end up not lasting for more than a week.

So, we resorted to hiring migrant workers, not that we refused to source for local manpower. Some of the migrant workers I’ve hired have been working for me for 15 years and they have been a good help to me. They are willing to work long hours and they can multitask.

Lau via Malay Mail

Lau added that while they try to pay both migrants and local employees equally based on the amount of work they do, they always end up paying the locals who demand higher pay. Traders end up agreeing to the higher wage because they need the manpower.

Annuar Musa’s directive happened after the government conducted a raid on the immigrant community in Kuala Lumpur, which was triggered by a spike in Covid-19 cases at the wholesale markets.

Residential areas near the Selayang market were placed under an EMCO. (Credit: Malay Mail)

This spike was largely blamed on the migrant workforce community in the area, and the market was ordered to temporarily cease operations while the residential areas nearby were placed under an enhanced movement control (EMCO) order so that residents and migrants could be screened and tested for the virus.


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