by K Veeriah
Motivated by a desire to amass wealth, otherwise justified as a “return on investment”, uncaring employers have always sought to suppress wages.
When countries such as Singapore and South Korea embarked on attaining a high-income society in the 1980s, our political leadership resorted to suppressing wages by flooding the labour market with migrant workers.
With a low rate of unionisation – no thanks to pro-capital labour legislation in force since independence – millions of workers have been deprived of the numerical strength to push for wage enhancement through collective bargaining.
On the back of low trade union membership and restrictive labour laws denying workers even their fundamental right to strike, many workers have been systematically denied a decent wage.
A Bank Negara study pointed out that the nation ought to embrace a “living wage” – as opposed to the minimum wage concept preferred by our political leadership.
Despite a surge in prices of essential goods, employers organisations such as the Malaysian Employers Federation and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers oppose an increase in the minimum wage, premised upon the old argument that businesses cannot survive with a minimum wage of RM1,500.
The theory of the survival of the fittest ought to prevail: if employers cannot pay a decent living wage, they should not enslave workers with exploitative wages. To be blunt, employers who have no capacity to pay a decent wage have no right to a claim of being paymasters!
To employers who use misplaced arguments in favour of a cheap wage system, I say you do not deserve to remain in business unless you are committed to uplift wages to a living wage, as Bank Negara propounded.
To argue that a minimum wage of RM1,500 would threaten the survival of micro, small and medium enterprises is akin to saying that our workers ought to continue to wallow in the depths of the vicious low and middle-income trap – just so that employers can remain in business.
The government should intervene to reduce wage inequality for the people’s benefit and wellbeing.
It cannot portray itself as the saviour of the people until it ensures a sustainable living wage for all.
K Veeriah is a veteran trade unionist based in Bukit Mertajam, Penang