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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Do not forsake workers - MTUC's Labour Day plea to gov't


This year’s Labour Day is marked with gloom and uncertainty over the plight of workers, not only in Malaysia but also globally. The Covid-19 pandemic has infected more than three million people, killed more than 200,000 and rendered hundreds of millions of workers jobless as the global economy is crippled by the deadly virus.
How bad is unemployment? The International Labour Organisation's (ILO) latest report says more than 1.6 billion people in the informal economy, or nearly half of the world’s workforce, are in immediate danger of losing their livelihood.
We never expected our lives to change so drastically in a blink of an eye. Our jobs, our safety, indeed our very lives and that of our loved ones are at risk each day as the cruel realities of the pandemic unfold. Millions of workers have been laid off or forced to take deep pay cuts and are clueless about their future.
Malaysia is not spared from this dark and gloomy worldwide reality as we observe Labour Day with so many questions and so few answers.
The foremost question on the mind of every worker in Malaysia is: Who will step forward to bail us out of this misery? The answer is the government. This is because the employers have bailed out. Many of them have only shown interest in saving their own skin and throwing workers under the bus.
This can be seen from the preliminary figures of retrenchments. About 6,000 workers have been losing their jobs monthly. That is the official figure. The reality is much worse. Many associations that represent employers and corporate leaders are saying openly that that hundreds of thousands of workers are expected to lose their jobs. Among those who made this projection are Malaysian Employers Federation and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers.
They have been lamenting loudly about these job losses in order to get as much as government aid as possible, although a large portion of the RM260 billion stimulus package announced by the government is for their benefit mainly.
Let me emphasise here that not all employers display this attitude, but the number of the employers who are greedy and uncaring is indeed high which has led to thousands of employees losing part or all of their livelihood since March when the movement control order (MCO) was implemented.
Those adversely affected include Malaysian citizens and migrant workers, most of whom have families and are from the hardcore poverty category. Malaysian workers depend on the cash aid given under the stimulus package and the RM100 food aid given by the government. The migrant workers, on the other hand, depend on NGOs and the public for their survival.
However, the food packs and the cash aid will or have already dried up. As a result, millions of workers who were already reeling from living on meagre income are left in a lurch. No jobs or reduced salaries, with hardly any savings, these workers have nowhere to turn to except to the government.
The workers will mark this Labour Day by appreciating the government for all the help that has been rendered. We are also very grateful for the sacrifices made by our frontliners and others in the essential services who are risking their lives daily to battle Covid-19 to keep us safe.
However, we are also forced to reiterate this simple fact: More needs to be done to help workers as many employers are only interested in saving themselves. The workers have no choice but to look up to the government to bail them out during tough times such as this.
We see no need to constantly remind the government on the contributions of the workers in the building of this nation. Or on the importance of workers who are needed to rebuild the economy of the country. We are confident that the government will not abdicate its responsibility.
Even so, on this Labour Day, dedicated to workers, we wish to hear from the horse’s mouth - the government - in giving its firm commitment that it will not forsake the workers. We want this proclamation to be translated into actions and meaningful programmes that can help overcome the difficulties faced by the workers.
Granted, MTUC does not agree with the government's move to use EPF and Socso funds in some of the stimulus measures announced as it is our stand that the move will further deplete the workers' savings meant for their retirement and ensure their welfare. But other measures, such as a moratorium on housing and car loan payments have benefitted workers.
The reality is workers do not have any other recourse but to turn to the government to save their livelihood during MCO and beyond. Failure by Putrajaya to do so will be catastrophic both for workers and the country.
We urge the government to give priority to the workers’ welfare not only during this MCO but also beyond. They must be guaranteed of their income and job security must remain the top priority at all times after the various economic sectors start reopening in stages.
We urge the government to come up with specific and comprehensive plans especially from the relevant ministries to protect the workers from being retrenched or having their pay cut by irresponsible employers. We urge the government to impose the Emergency Employment Regulations which will bar employers from retrenching their staff for a specific period.
Because of this, on this Labour Day, we pray that the hope and aspirations in the heart of every worker will soon become a reality, that is, to be given the appropriate help for our very survival because we are the pulse of the nation.
Happy Labour Day!

The writer, J Solomon is the secretary-general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC). - Mkini

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