Sunday, 6 May 2012

2012 International Labour Day Celebration in Johor - Message From The Presidium 'Workers Working Together for A Secure Future'

2012 International Labour Day Celebration in Johor 
Message From The Presidium

'Workers Working Together for
A Secure Future'

Dr. Hj. Ali Abdul Rahman,  Y. Mohan,  Ng Chee Wee

Dr. Hj. Ali Abdul Rahman delivered the Message from the Presidium
The dilemmas faced by the Malaysian workers, regardless of ethnicorigins, are critical and worrying.  Not only can they affect the well-being of the people, but also affect the harmony of the community and security of our  beloved nation.

The low wage followed by a high cost of living is one of the main dilemmas.  Unskilled workers, such as operators in factories and floor cleaners in offices, are paid an initial salary of RM400 to RM550.  Some of them are sole bread earners for large families.  Some of them are compelled to live in big cities, such as Johor Bahru, where the cost of living is among the highest in the entire country.

Most of the employers in companies and plantations show greater tendency to hire foreign workers because the latter are willing to accept lower pay.  Despite receiving low pay, these foreign workers are prepared  to hold on since either they are single, or they had left their families back in their respective countries.  In the circumstances, they can afford to work many shifts to augment their incomes.  As a result, their total income increases and they can send back money to their home countries. Their income,  when converted to the respective currencies, may sustain their families quite comfortably.  What a loss to the local workers who are being sidelined! ... and what a loss to all Malaysians for the hundreds of millions of ringgit flowing to other countries.

The priority given to foreign workers does not stop there.  Indeed, terms of the contract signed with the employers promise a tenure of work up to 2 years – which is often extended – compared to mere 3 months for the locals. While the employment of the local workers may be terminated without any compensation, the foreigners are given special treatment due to the fact that their contracts involve the bilateral relations of two countries.  Indeed foreign workers are a threat to the locals!

To add salt to injury, the Minister for Human Resources – who by right should be fighting for the local workers – seems more passionate in the fight for the betterment of foreign maids – they are given a minimum wage of RM800, free meals, a full-day off each week – rather than looking into the plight of his own people.  As a Malay proverb goes, "monkeys in the  jungle are well fed at the expense of starving own children at home".

The plight of local workers is not limited to a particular ethnic group,  but the same is true for all races in Malaysia.  Nevertheless, perhaps the Indian community is the particular race specially affected.  The majority of the Indian workers have been living in rubber estates, since pre-Independence days.  After Independence, the government switched its focus on oil palm plantations, instead of rubber estates. The Indian estate workers lost their jobs because the employers preferred to take in foreign workers.  The foreign workers are seen to be more loyal and willing to work under trying circumstances.  In the rubber estates that still exist,  such as those in Kluang and Segamat, the fate which befalls the local workers is pathetic.  During the rainy season, they have no pay, but such term of contract does not apply to foreign workers in the same estates!

All the pledges the British made to the Indians when they were brought in to work in rubber estates, turned out to be empty promises.  Promises of benefits (such as free housing, etc.) are not made good. The sad state of affairs repeats itself from generation to generation. Today, most of the Indian estate workers belong to the third generation from the same families who have been working in the same estates.  What a shabby treatment has been meted out to this ethnic group!

Many Indian estate workers have migrated to big cities in to try their luck.  The attempts have largely been made in vain,  because factories now impose an age limit of 35 years as the starting age for a job as an operator.  They finally end up doing menial jobs as floor cleaners, security guards or jobs which do not entail special skills.  As a result of being paid a meagre salary, both husband and wife have to work in order to feed a large family.  The house which they can afford to rent, (the rent is relatively high in cities)  is normally in a troubled neighbourhood far from being peaceful.  Consequently, their children, neglected and malnourished, lagging behind in educational performance, are aggravated by not so good social influence, grow up to be social misfits.  They have partly contributed to the high crime rate in this country.

It is really unfortunate that the workers depicted above have been and will always be caught in an endless  vicious cycle.  They become targets for law enforcement agencies. Society lacks understanding of the source of the dilemma they are in.

Have we, the Malaysians, lost our sense of humanity?  …

The Indians – and other races as well in Malaysia – badly need help.

But who would be rendering assistance to them?  Certainly not the greedy employers.

The problems originated from the government policy, and therefore, should be solved by the government.  But the present government does not bother. It has gone astray from the right path. It does not take the necessary remedial  steps which ought to have been taken by them.

Minimum Wage

The proposal to set a minimum wage for workers, now a reality, although looks attractive on the surface, actually may bring about bigger woes for Malaysians.  There is news that a number of companies have shifted their factories and operations, whether partial or total,  to other countries (such as China and Vietnam) where the workers’ wages are lower than those in Malaysia. This will cause high rate of unemployment in the medium term or in the long term.

Should we just wait and see the catastrophe which is coming our way ? …
It is true that we fight for better wages for our workers.  But the question of sustainability also has to be addressed.  We would like employers to pay reasonable wages to the employees in line with the quality and productivity of their work.

A significant step which can be taken by the government is to set aside a fund for the training of workers for the purpose of upgrading their quality of work and skills.  The workers can also be given the opportunity to acquire the skills required in their work.  The employers then need not on their own train the local workers new to the jobs, because the workers with the training given by the government, can start contributing to the productivity of the companies from day one.

Emphasis should also be given to upgrading the work attitude and team-building.  As work attitude, productivity, and quality of work improve compared to those of foreign workers, employers would happily hire the locals.  They will be more than willing to improve the workers’ wage schemes in accordance with the performance of the companies.  This is the solution to the dilemma that local workers are facing. It is a win-win situation.

Another appropriate step that should be taken by the government is,  to provide incentives for companies which hire and retain local workers.  Among these are tax preferences for those who employ the locals.

Unfortunately, the current government looks impotent and lacking in ideas and initiatives.  The public sector which comes directly under its purview is not without its share of woes.

New Public Service Renumeration Scheme (SBPA)

Recently the government announced its intention to replace the Malaysian Renumeration Scheme (which has been in place since the time of Tun Mahathir) for its employees (SSM)  with the New Public Service Renumeration Scheme (SBPA).  Despite its own shortcomings, there are significant merits in the new scheme, prompting many a civil servant to opt for the extension of their retirement age to 60 years.   Then came the bad news: in the middle of March 2012, the Prime Minister withdrew the proposal, and reverted to the old scheme SSM with some modifications.

The indecisive action on the part of the government served only to reveal its glaring weakness in policy and decision making.  SBPA was proposed as part of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP).  Indeed SBPA contains many positive elements which can promote delivery of services in the public sector.  For example, the existence of exit policy provides for the termination of underproductive workers.  Annulling SBPA before it even takes off, reverting to SSM shows loss of direction on the part of the government, besides its lack of commitment towards its own GTP initiative.  Besides, many government employees feel cheated because they accepted the option to extend their retirement age in order to exploit the promise of pay increase under SBPA, but now that the new scheme has been withdrawn, their retirement age remains at 60.

It is important to note that the extension of retirement age also has dark implications for the young would-be workers.  Many youths who have just acquired certificates, diplomas, and degrees, and are waiting eagerly to enter their respective careers, are being frustrated after being denied jobs due to no vacancies in the government sector.  These adolescence and youths, rightly the second echelon in the nation, now become the neglected talents.  As an English proverb goes, ‘An idle mind is a most terrible thing to waste’.  The fate of these young would-be workers will certainly have repercussions for the nation’s future.

Thus is the scenario for our workers – and the would-be workers – of our nation.  In the plantations, they are sidelined and driven away.  In the factories they are being trivialised.  In the public sector, they remained handicapped.  They need support.  Not from the greedy employers, or the government which has lost its hold on reality, for both can only prolong their sufferings.

It is we – the workers in plantations, factories, and government sector – who are capable of helping ourselves.  Therefore, we, the multiracial workers, should be united, cooperate, synergise, as the citizens of this beloved nation of ours, in demanding our rights as enshrined in the nation’s Constitution.  The government which shouts the slogan ‘The priority is to the people’ must be made accountable to its actions, so that they walk the talk.  Employers must be urged to be just to the local workers through the making of laws passed by Parliament, according to the Constitution.

These are the demands of the Malaysian workers.  These demands can only be met if we are united and work together, regardless of race and religion, standing for our rights which have been long denied us.
The satisfaction of these demands will ensure bright future for our workers and all the people of this beloved nation.

'Workers working together for a secure future'

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