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Saturday, April 30, 2011

A tribute to our workers: Say it with a minimum wage

A tribute to our workers: Say it with a minimum wage

The government is aware that the implementation of the minimum wage based on industrial needs, will go a long way to give Malaysians better access to decent living standards, increase productivity and also boost the country’s economic growth.

If that is the case, what is stopping the government from improving the lot of its workforce?

For a long time now, those in industrial relations are aware that Malaysian labour legislations are very draconian and oppressive in nature.

The government is expedient in drafting labour laws which have a devastating effect of demoralising the workers as there is greater avenue to the capitialist investors to further exploit their workers. The introduction of these laws are to deprive the workers of their rights.

Labour Day, or May Day, is the day when workers peacefully celebrate their achievements, when the country strives to achieve social justice for all and when we express support for those throughout the world who are struggling for basic rights.

This is also a day when we remember our colleagues who are being victimised, such as those workers whose quality and standard of living fall below the poverty level.

This time last year, security guards in the Klang Valley earned a basic salary of RM450 a month whereas their rural counterparts earned RM250 a month, excluding allowances.

Bus drivers receive a basic monthly wage of RM500 and being underpaid, does plenty of overtime. It is only after a serious crash with fatalities, that we learn of the overworked driver who was trying to make ends meet, doing several trips or overtime shifts and foregoing sleep.

A study by the Human Resources Minister, found that the wages for the electronic, textile, plastic and furniture industries was just between RM550 and RM600 per month.

Government-linked companies may make billions of dollars but the workers still get peanuts.

The minimum wage for Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) employees is only RM750 but its CEO receives an annual salary of RM600,000 (2007).

Despite billions of ringgit in investments, GLCs were still paying their workers a pittance:

In Pos Malaysia, the minimum monthly wage is RM635, Petronas is RM1,050, and Telekom Malaysia is RM800.

From time to time, the debate about minimum pay and working conditions is resurrected. When that happens, the Human Resources Ministry will announce that it is ‘studying to determine what constitutes a minimum wage’. It will insist that a ‘detailed study has to be conducted based on various aspects’ because minimum wage implementation has ‘vast implications’.

Do we really need more studies? Shouldn’t we act rather than waste time doing more detailed in-depth research?

We live and work in a modern democracy, but we have failed to meet the minimum standards set by the UN International Labour Organisation.

If government were to implement the minimum wage, the message that is sent out to its workforce is clear: that it is sincere about the principles of equality, justice and respect at work.

It is obvious that Malaysian workers should stand united in support of campaigns for better employment and workers rights, for full employment and quality jobs. Workers also need to uphold any movement to ‘keep public services public’ and also to promote anti-racism at work.

We need to express concern about child labour, poverty pay, persecution of trade unionists, excessive corporate power and corporate irresponsibility. May Day should also be a day to reflect on better labour standards, respect for communities and the environment.

Employers should make safety and well-being at work, a priority. Many of us know only too well that standards in safety in many of our workplaces are inferior, and enforcement is poor.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's “1 Malaysia” campaign of “People first, Performance now” means nothing if the government drags its feet on requests by the workers regarding the retrenchment fund, minimum wage and automatic registration of trade unions.

Thus far, the Human Resources Ministry has done nothing to alleviate the financial status of some 1.3 million workers who earn less than RM700 a month.

A study by World Bank showed Malaysia’s wage trend had recorded a growth of 2.6% annually for the last 10 years, which is lower than the inflation rate.

The price of goods has remained high despite the significant rise in the value of ringgit for the past 6 months. (Earlier this week, the ringgit registered a 14-year high at RM2.99 to USD 1 dollar.)

If the ringgit is high then why have imported goods not become cheaper? Will the government give its word that there would be no more price increase for daily necessities?

The Malaysian workforce has been disappointed to see many proposed amendments to the labour law which will ultimately take away rights from the workers and instead give it to the employers.

Perhaps the time has also come when the government can reward Malaysia’s hardworking people with a minimum wage so that workers would no longer have to work double shifts to make ends meet.

This May Day, it should do the honorable thing and award workers with its earlier promise of RM1500 per month, minimum wage. - Malaysia Chronicle

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