LETTER | There was an interesting piece under ADUN SPEAKS in Malaysiakini, dated Oct 5, with the heading: “The contradictory nature of Industrial relations in M’sia”, written by Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy.
The basis of his argument is that skills formation, including wage determination, cannot simply be created but these have to be sustained by allowing workers the fundamental rights to freedom.
He also states that workers should be given the freedom to determine wages through negotiation with employers and that the government’s intervention is merely an undemocratic exercise to take away the bargaining power of employees.
My question to him is, if a government does not intervene in determining wages, will the corporate world, which has the strong might of financial power and the leverage to move its business to any part of the world, voluntarily sit with workers or trade unions on equal terms?
The argument by Ramasamy is narrowed down to national context, but he has not analysed the workers’ context more broadly by asking how the so-called democratic values, which he envisages could work in a global, neoliberal economic system that has its in roots in Washington, be in consensus with free markets and rights to exploit human resources with the lowest cost.
If one analyses trade union movements around the world, they have been weakened by neoliberal policies, where investors could easily move out their investments to other countries that provide cheap labour, while they maximise the prices of their products in the global market.
One of the reasons Donald Trump won the US presidency is due to the weakened bargaining power of American workers, who have seen their corporate companies leaving the country and investing in foreign countries with cheap labour.
Besides the weakened bargaining power of workers, technological changes have disrupted the social security of workers with the emergence of gig economy and artificial intelligence, where the power of knowledge creation and innovation have created a new and dynamic dimension and context to the survival of workers.
In this context, democratic values without the strength of knowledge and innovation become ineffective. It is obvious that Ramasamy has failed to address these issues.
Enhancing knowledge and skills
It is in this new context today that Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran has embarked on a journey to promote skills training and liaise with foreign institutions in India and Ukraine to bring in knowledgeable and skill trainers to Malaysia, so that there could be a transfer of knowledge and skills to Malaysian workers.
This will help strengthen the bargaining power of Malaysian workers in the long run, through the enhancement of knowledge and skills. This includes practical skills that would be able to withstand any uncertainty that comes from the collapse of business entities that create jobs.
On the other hand, in a global neoliberal environment, it is vital for trade unionists to build solidarity with global trade union movements to expose the tyranny of the neoliberal system that continues to undermine the very democratic values and freedom of workers that Ramasamy appears concerned about.
This is the reason Ramasamy’s opinion seems to be myopic and lacking a broader dimension of addressing the injustices that confront workers at the national and global levels.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.