The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) is disappointed that Malaysia will still not increase the minimum wage now in May 2015, noting that the cost of living in recent years has increased drastically following, amongst other reasons, the removal of subsidies and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Prime Minister Najib Razak was reported to have said at the government’s Labour Day celebrations at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching on 1 May 2015 that the “minimum wage could not be increased now” (The Star, 2 May 2015, ’11MP to focus on human resources development, says PM’). This is unacceptable: it is unjust that workers in Malaysia are required to enjoy the same rate of minimum wages for more than two years and four months.
The National Wage Consultation Council Act 2011, Section 25(1) clearly states: “The Council shall, at least once in every two years, review the Minimum Wages Order”, and this certainly includes the minimum wage rates. Two years is the statutory maximum period before which the minimum wage rates should be increased.
The law is clear that minimum wages can be reviewed and increased even at a faster rate depending on the effectiveness of current rates, having due regard to also the socio-economic reality of workers and their families. Clearly, the cost of living has escalated since the last Minimum Wage Order in 2012 was made, and reasonably this should have led to increases in the minimum wage rates.
It must be pointed out that the last Minimum Wages Order 2012 (P.U. (A) 214) was made on 16 July 2012, and since then it has been almost two years and 10 months. As such, the next Minimum Wage Order, which really should have been made on or before 16 July 2014, is long overdue. Workers in Malaysia should have been enjoying higher minimum wage rates at the very least since the beginning of the year – 1 January 2015.
The MTUC notes that the Malaysian government has effectively denied many workers the full enjoyment of their right to minimum wages as of 1 January 2013 by reason of the various exemptions provided to certain employers or classes of employers.
The MTUC also reiterates its protest on that discriminatory nature of Minimum Wages (Amendment) Order 2013, which created a situation where migrant workers in certain workplaces were denied minimum wages for a certain period when their fellow local workers already enjoyed this right to minimum wages.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was clearly wrong when he said, “We have only implemented the minimum wage policy for about a year and five months …” (Malaysian Digest, 3 May 2015, ‘”Too soon to review minimum wage” – Najib’). The relevant Minimum Wage Order was made in July 2012, whereby workers in Malaysia started enjoying minimum wages on 1 January 2013 – and it has been more than two years and four months since workers started enjoying a minimum wage of RM900 (Peninsular Malaysia) and RM800 (for Sabah and Sarawak).
The MTUC was also unhappy about this discrimination against workers in Sabah and Sarawak, considering also that the cost of living in East Malaysia is higher than in Peninsular Malaysia, a fact that is also reflected in the official poverty line income.
The MTUC calls on the Malaysian government to immediately increase minimum wage rates to at least RM1,200, and this entitlement should be made effective as of 1 January 2015. Employers should be compelled to immediately pay all monies due to the worker by reason of the increased minimum wage from the beginning of the year until the relevant date.
There should be no exemption for any employer, and all workers, including migrant workers, in Malaysia should be treated equally without discrimination.
N Gopal Kishnam is the secretary general of the MTUC.