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Minimum wage: 500 workers picket at Johor factory

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The RM900 minimum wage should be based on basic wages (normal working hours, eight hours per day), and before taking into account overtime, other allowances and benefits, writes Charles Hector.

Photograph: Sinar Harian
Photograph: Sinar Harian

About 500 workers picketed at a factory producing computer parts in Senai, Johor.

It is common for the media generally not to report such protests especially when it involves workers and other marginalised people, but thankfully Sinar Harian did report. http://www.sinarharian.com.my/edisi/johor/pekerja-kilang-mogok-kerana-masalah-gaji-1.132516

The protest was concerning minimum wages of RM900 that workers in Peninsular Malaysia were to receive beginning January 2013, and what should be increased to RM900 is the basic wages (normal working hours, eight hours per day), not including overtime, other allowances and benefits.

From the report, it is alleged that the employer seems to have arbitrarily increased normal working hours from 44 to 48 hours, and this means that workers who did work extra hours, say 48 hours instead of 44 hours, who would have got overtime pay for four hours a week, about 16 hours a month, whereby the rate of pay for overtime is generally (one and a half times) the ordinary rate of pay. No employer can unilaterally increase working hours or change any expressed/implied term of the employment agreement without the explicit consent of the workers.

It is also alleged that previously they could take home around RM1500 with overtime and other allowances, but now their pay has been ‘re-structured’ and there are various deductions – and from now their take-home pay would be less.

But the question is, what is the Ministry of Human Resources going to do about it? Why do they even have to wait until workers go on picket or protest? Should there not be ongoing inspections by the Ministry to ensure workers are not being cheated of their rights?

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Workers in Malaysia on short-term employment contracts rather than regular employment until retirement are even more vulnerable and are afraid to claim rights. Workers supplied by outsourcing companies (contractors for labour) are in even more precarious position for they work in factories that are not their employer – and, so they can easily lose their factory job. And given the fact all these ‘contractors for labour’ do not work of their own that need workers, loss of factory job means effectively loss of employment.

A strike of employees of a factory will ‘pressure’ their employer to negotiate and settle the dispute with their employees. But a strike of employees of a contractor for labour will have no such effect; after all, they do not have any factory, business, plantation that needs employees to return to work failing which they would lose money….

Hopefully, when the opposition Pakatan Rakyat comes out with its Election Manifesto, the fundamental concerns of workers in Malaysia will be there:

  1. Abolish the Contractor for Labour system;
  2. Ensure workers are regular employees until retirement – abolish short-term employment contracts.

Charles Hector, an Aliran member, is a human rights lawyer based in Temerloh, Pahang. The above was reproduced from his blog at charleshector.blogspot.com

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