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Clandestine wee hours pay hike for MPs

How should MPs behave in Parliament?

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The hefty pay hike places elected reps on the privileged side of the fence seperating the privileged elite from the poor in a society that has become increasingly unequal, observes Rani Rasiah.

While workers are fighting for an increase in the minimum wage after being on RM900 for the past two years, their elected representatives have awarded themselves a hefty 140 per cent hike in basic pay!

People are the boss? People first?! Never mind; just that the old election-time refrain used by both sides of the political divide to bait voters keeps resurfacing.

The setting of the passing of the MPs’ salary bill in Parliament after midnight, in the wee hours of the morning, lending an aura of stealth and conspiracy as if something clandestine was being sealed, doesn’t help.

According to the newly passed bill, Members of Parliament will receive RM16,000 – up from the RM6,508 basic they have been receiving. (Senators, RM11,000 – up from about RM3,000; Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara speakers, RM31,000; their deputies, RM22,000.) In addition to their basic pay, our lawmakers get generous allowances for various expenses totaling RM5,000 before the pay raise.

Being part of a system that differentiates the value of brain work which is deemed superior to manual labour through income differentials, one can hardly expect MPs to do anything revolutionary like walking out of the House because the rise is too steep or because there hasn’t been a rise in the minimum wage!

That didn’t happen of course; instead MPs probably felt they had at last got a long-overdue, well deserved raise that puts them on par with or close to their peers in the professions and the corporate world.

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Barisan Nasional MPs get at least RM1m per year as constituency allocation which is wrongfully denied to opposition lawmakers. Many MPs, especially in the opposition, can convincingly justify the uses of this manifold pay increase especially in servicing their constituencies.

But what makes this quantum leap manifestly indecent is the 0 per cent increase in the minimum wage. The minimum wage, introduced in 2013, is due for a rise this year. The MTUC has proposed a new minimum wage of RM1 200, the PSM RM1,500; the government RM1,000.

But the Malaysian Employers Federation felt RM900 was enough, saying, “Increasing the minimum wage should be avoided due to the current sluggish economic situation and the drop in fuel prices, along with its ripple effects.” (This is bull…., as robust economic growth has never been accompanied by a rise in workers’ wages.)

Not unexpectedly, the government has abandoned its working population to the private sector by ‘kowtow-ing’ to the bosses’ position. In March this year, the Human Resources Minister told Parliament that the government had no plans to raise the RM900 minimum wage for workers.

The salary increase bill for MPs, which was tabled first in November last year, met a stunningly different fate. The nearly 100 per cent pay rise proposed then was deemed insufficient, on the grounds of rising costs, and the bill was withdrawn. The revised bill proposed a 140 per cent hike and was duly passed.

Our workers are not as lucky. The government can’t even defend the RM100 morsel it was seeking (to raise the minimum wage to RM1,000). So workers, the majority of whom constitute the poorest 40 per cent of Malaysian households with a monthly income of RM3,000 and below, are left to confront rising costs on falling real wages.

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Such a huge pay increase for elected reps without a matching increase in the incomes of the people invariably widens the gap between the two. It places elected reps on the privileged side of the fence between the privileged elite and the poor in a society that has become increasingly unequal.

Their lifestyle, experiences and aspirations would make them identify increasingly with the haves, and lose touch with the people’s daily struggle to live. How hard can we expect them to fight the government and the corporate sector for an increase in the minimum wage, affordable housing, quality public health care and education, and social security programmes for low-income households?

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