If after five decades of nationhood, there is still no minimum wage act to provide a minimum guarantee, this government is totally irrelevant to the vast majority of Malaysians, says Rani Rasiah.
More than a century after the birth of the Labour Day, what progress is there in the rights, and working and living conditions of the working class and marhein all over the world? More than a century since, our basic demands – for a minimum living wage and 8-hour workday – remain unchanged.
Malaysian workers continue to be at the mercy of individual bosses in the absence of a minimum wage act. The eight-hour workday has been insidiously converted into 12 hours in two shifts in an arrangement that benefits the bosses. Compulsory overtime to supplement low wages has become a necessary evil for workers but it deprives them of rest, and time for family and community.
The government’s low wage policy incentive to attract foreign investors continues to erode whatever rights workers enjoyed. By amending labour laws the government has made it easier to sack workers. Unemployment and job insecurity have been created by allowing cheap and docile migrant labour without exhausting local labour supply first.
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Living standards have deteriorated. Adequate and affordable housing for 60 per cent of households remains out of reach. Privatisation of public utilities and services has resulted in deterioration in quality and increase in cost to consumers. Private hospitals with superfluous state of the art gadgets and specialists exist for the rich, side by side with neglected public hospitals – with inferior facilities and a serious brain drain – to serve the vast low income majority.
Government statistics show that 34 per cent of workers earn an income below the official poverty line of RM720, and 70 per cent earn less than RM1,500 a month. In March 2010, the National Economic Advisory Council to the NEM reported that 80 per cent of households had an average income of less than RM3,000 per month, and that the distribution disparity of income was getting wider.
Despite being fully conscious of the daily struggle of the majority of the rakyat in trying to make ends meet and also of the widening gap between rich and poor, the government continues to make decisions that worsen the problem for the rakyat. It tried to and still has intentions of implementing the GST (Goods and Services Tax) to ease corporate taxes and transfer the tax burden to the rakyat. In addition, in 2010 the government started cutting the RM24 billion subsidy for essential items like cooking gas, petrol and sugar, citing imminent bankruptcy if it were to continue with the subsidy, – but retained an RM84 billion subsidy to the corporate sector.
The message is clear. The government will betray workers and pawn their rights and those of the marhein to preserve the interests of the capitalists with whom the ruling elite are strongly bonded. This has become all the more obvious with the adoption of neo-liberal market mechanisms that are hostile to workers.
If after five decades of nationhood, there is still no minimum wage act to provide a minimum guarantee, this government is totally irrelevant to the vast majority of Malaysians. Let us vote this government out as the first step towards a better alternative to capitalism.
Rani Rasiah is deputy secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM)