Tens of thousands of jobs can be found in the timber and oil-palm sectors in the state, but few locals want to work for such low pay, points out Andrew Lo.
We refer to the ultra defensive and paranoid response by PBB information chief Idris Buang, who resorted to personal attacks and wild accusations against union officials instead of tackling issues affecting workers in Sarawak.
Unlike him, we have no doubt that his statement has the full approval of PBB’s top leadership and was fully deliberated by their top level meeting. As he is the information chief, we must take his views as the official view of PBB.
It is shocking that the backbone party of the Sarawak state government resorted to personal attacks that illuminate their failure to engage constructively with workers in Sarawak on fundamental issues. It doesn’t understand what the difference is between the creation of jobs and the creation of decent jobs.
There is absolutely no point in creating tens of thousands of jobs in timber and oil palm plantations only to have more than 80% filled by foreign workers. The oil palm industry’s own figures state that more than 80% of employees are only paid minimum wages, despite some working for more than 10 years.
He refuses to address why not a single one out of the 29 ministers and assistant ministers is responsible for labour, despite their insisting that any laws relating to labour must have the consent of the state government.
The Sarawak division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress has called for the setting up of such an important position since the time when our current governor was the chief minister and then during the tenure of the late Adenan Satem and of the current chief minister. Please do an online search of all our statements on this issue. We would be happy to provide Idris with hard copies.
He refuses to explain why 10 out of the 17 poorest districts are in Sarawak even though we rank third in Gross Domestic Product. Perhaps he should know that even now, more than 86% of Sarawakians earn below RM5,000 a month. Household debt comes up to 146% of household income, which means that for every ringgit we earn, we already owed RM1.46.
He talks about MTUC being a strategic partner. But our numerous suggestions and memorandum to the state government to set up a state level human resources consultative platform for the tripartite partners – government, employers and employees – to find ways to move forward has fallen on deaf ears.
The state government has been making arbitrary decisions on issues affecting Sarawak workers. It has also taken positions on the ongoing amendments of labour laws without seeking the views of Sarawakian workers. It may have consulted with employers but never the workers. Perhaps PBB only listens to employers’ views.
We have not seen any statement from PBB or its elected representatives urging employers especially timber companies to increase the minimum wages so that they are the same as in the peninsula. This is despite the cost of living being much higher in Sarawak.
Instead we have seen statements by elected representatives in government parroting employers’ calls to delay the implementation of minimum wages. This, despite 48.1% of workers in Sarawak at that time earning below the poverty line of RM800.
Even when the state government organised a forum to seek ways to resolve the shortage of workers in the oil palm industry, it deliberately denied any representation for workers to air their view. They only invited employers and industry players. This is arrogance at its worst.
We are not expecting the state government to create decent jobs by itself, but it must have the wisdom and be smart enough to design long-term policies to attract investments and encourage the creation of decent jobs.
But instead of creating high value and decent jobs, we allowed tens of thousands of low-wage and unskilled workers. All these directly drove Sarawakians to seek employment outside Sarawak, resulting in quite a few being conned.
With their overwhelming majority in the Sarawak State Assembly, we would expect PBB not to be so defensive and paranoid and to treat every criticism as a political conspiracy or having a political agenda.
Instead, PBB should be thankful that the MTUC has always been apolitical. We will work with any parties to advance the economic interest of local workers which will lead to higher domestic consumption and therefore enhance economic growth and development.
Andrew Lo is secretary of the Sarawak division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.