‘What discrimination?’ Guan Eng asks critics of foreign cooks ban

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GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government insisted yesterday there is nothing discriminatory in its move to bar foreign workers from becoming cooks at hawker stalls. This, according to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was because licences, which are supposed to be owner-operated, are granted to only lower-income Malaysians.

He said the state has made “tough proactive decisions” to preserve the unique heritage of its street food by prohibiting foreigners from cooking at such premises.

“How can this ruling be undemocratic or discriminatory when it is intended to protect the uniqueness of Penang food?” he said, adding that foreign workers can assist stall owners in other duties. “There are no human rights issues [about] foreign workers being denied their right to cook,” he said in a statement.

He said workers perform their jobs, such as cooking or washing plates, based on orders given by their employers. “Telling foreign workers they cannot cook in hawker stalls is not denying their rights or depriving them of their passion for cooking because they are indifferent,” he said.

Furthermore, any culinary skills the foreign workers acquired would be lost because they would have to return to their countries after a period of time, he said.

The ruling is to be enforced fully in 2016 after a one-year grace period.

Penang Gerakan chairman and former state executive councillor Teng Chang Yeow reportedly criticised the move as a political stunt, saying the DAP-led state government was trying to portray itself as being more Penangite than Penangites themselves.

In an opinion piece published in The Malaysian Insider yesterday, reader CD Wan said the state’s policy appeared to contradict the DAP’s vision, which includes establishing a peaceful and prosperous social democracy grounded on universal moral values and offering equal access and opportunity.

Guan Eng said the state understood the opinion of those who want market forces to determine the hawker business where indifferent foreign workers can serve “lousy food”. “However, food is uniquely important in Penang, where it is rated as the best in the world [and] it is one of the main, if not the main attraction for tourists,” he said.

He said the state will not allow the tourism industry to be jeopardised by foreign cooks. He added that the state is pleased that Trip Advisor, the international travel website, has placed Penang as the most affordable Malaysian island, and the ninth-most affordable in Southeast Asia, in its recent second annual TripIndex Island Sun report. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 27, 2014.