Malaysiakini Letter

Minimum wage should be relaxed for disabled people

Ooi Heng, KPRU  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Think-tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU) welcomes the raise of the minimum wage as announced in Budget 2016, however KPRU opines that the current minimum wage system is unable to protect the people with disabilities, also known in Malay as Orang Kurang Upaya or Orang Kelainan Upaya, or OKU in short.

This is because the disabled people are unable to compete with the non-disabled people on a level playing field in the working field, where the same minimum wage is offered to all. This will result in difficulties for the disabled people in getting a job. Therefore in KPRU’s opinion, the minimum wage system should be relaxed or be more flexible, in order to encourage employers in giving more opportunities for the disabled.

By looking into the reality of the working world in our country, with the same pay, if a non-disabled person and a disabled person (which the disability is considered to be affecting his or her work performance or outcome) apply for the same job vacancy, the employer would most probably prefer to hire the non-disabled applicant.

In the Budget 2016 speech, Finance Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that an employed OKU will get a monthly allowance of RM350, whereas an unemployed one will get RM200 per month.

KPRU wishes to affirm that for an unemployed OKU, the monthly allowance of RM 200 is insufficient for their needs, so they will still have to be funded by their families or whatever donations given to them.

KPRU would like to suggest the National Wages Consultative Council (MPGN) to consider the minimum wage system in countries such as the United States and Australia. In the United States, while the minimum wages is generally US$7.25 per hour, there are a few specific exceptions.

Among these, the employment of people with disabilities is completely exempted from the stated minimum wages, as long as the employer obtained permission from the Department of Labour for doing so. With this, the employer may pay their disabled workers a lower wage, therefore giving more job opportunities for the disabled workers.

As for Australia, while the minimum wage is A$17.29 per hour, there are also a few specific exceptions. One who is working 38 hours per week would get at least A$656.90 (before tax reduction). On the other hand, under the Supported Wage System, a disabled worker would get a minimum wage of A$81 per week.

Under the Australian Supported Wage System, the waging of a disabled person is based on their assessed work capacity, which the assessment must be done before hand. With this, for example, one whose assessed work capacity is 70 percent will be paid 70 percent of the normal pay of his or her job.

Therefore, we urge the federal ruling government to review the minimum wage systems in the United States and in Australia, and then consider a leniency of minimum wages for the OKU. This is to encourage the private sector to hire OKU, as they would be able to pay a lower wage, and at the same time ‘doing a favour’ in helping the OKU workers to earn a living.

Prime Minister Najib announced in his Budget 2016 speech that starting from July 1, 2016, the monthly minimum wages will be increased from RM900 to RM1,000 for peninsular Malaysia, and from RM800 to RM920 for Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan. This involves all private sectors except domestic workers.

Najib also announced that the lowest starting pay for civil servants is RM1,200 per month, which will potentially benefit 60,000 civil servants.

OOI HENG is executive director of the think-tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU).

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