As soon as Human Resources Minister M Saravanan announced that a minimum wage of RM1,500 was likely to be realised by the end of the year, the employers bloc went on the offensive to oppose that possibility.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) took the position that a minimum wage of RM1,500 would not be sustainable for a wide range of employers.
We in the Malaysian Trades Union Congress find that argument misplaced, as that was the same proposition that was presented when the national minimum wage was introduced in 2013. Paying a minimum wage of RM900 was opposed then, premised upon the inability of employers to absorb the so-called increase in wages.
However, the reality is that employers have continued to prevail despite the progressive enhancement of the minimum wage from RM900 to the current RM1,200.
In fact, employers have no reason to object to a biennial review of the national minimum wage, as it is a requirement under the National Wages Consultative Council Act 2011 [that the council should “at least once in every two years, review the minimum wages order”]. The MEF cannot feign ignorance of the law!
Since a biennial review of the minimum wage is a mandatory requirement, employers cannot attempt to circumvent such a legal requirement for whatever reason.
Thus, we in the MTUC are baffled at the MEF’s resistance against the government’s mandatory obligation in the matter.
While welcoming the human resources minister’s statement that a RM1,500 minimum wage is a possibility, we urge the government to shift its focus from the minimum wage concept of wage determination to what is known as a ‘living wage’ system.
With the cost of living constantly outpacing the minimum wage, we believe the government ought to embark on a living wage module to ensure that the working population is paid an equitable living wage so that they have sufficient income to provide for themselves and their dependants.
K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress