Malaysiakini Letter

Workers wrongly blamed for productivity ills

Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, Callistus Antony D'Angelus  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s argument against salary increases for workers is regrettable and we argue that it is predicated on some flawed reasoning.

The prime minister stated that increasing salaries would result in a rising cost of living. The premier’s argument would hold true if all other costs remain constant and only wages rise. That, however, is not the case in reality as wages lag behind all other increases.

If we were to look at things on a day-to-day basis and in a very practical sense - how much has the price of a roti canai and a teh tarik, an ordinary person’s breakfast, increased over the past five years? Was this due to a rise in wages? Has the rise in wages in the general sense increased as much as the increase in the cost of living?

The fact of the matter is that wages are the laggard in the whole cost equation. It is only a factor, and that, too, considered very reluctantly, after prices of goods and services have increased due to various other factors.

The factors which have caused an increase in the prices of goods and services was the Goods and Services Tax (GST) introduced by the previous government, the profit motive of businesses where prices are increased at every possible opportunity, monopolistic and oligopolistic conditions, as well as asset inflation. Though the GST has been withdrawn, prices have not gone down correspondingly.

The blame for low productivity, if it is a problem in the first place, has been laid on the shoulders of the workers and in particular the lower income group. This is both unreasonable and unfair. How much do the workers contribute to the whole productivity equation as a whole? We would argue that it is a small percentage, as other factors come into play.

The cost of inefficiencies contributed by poor management, a lack of investment and failed government policies figure more heavily in the productivity equation.

Let’s look at what has happened in the management of our national carrier, Malaysian Airlines, over the years. How many times have the taxpayers bailed out the company? This was not due to the productivity of the common workers who suffered through being terminated and also in having their salaries and allowances reduced.

The government should look at how workers in the country are faring in the real sense. It is pointless in trying to look good through statistics like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), National Income, etc. when the common people are not only failing to benefit from it but also sliding backwards in terms of their quality of life. A foreign investment climate cannot be built on the exploitation of workers in the country.

The bloated civil service, as quoted by Mahathir, is also caused by decades of failed policies and also because of the politics of patronage. This cannot now be blamed on the workers of the country.

One of the main reasons, and probably the biggest one, which caused the fall of the BN government, was the rising cost of living where people were finding it more difficult than ever to live decent and respectable lives. This should not be lost on the new Pakatan Harapan government.

The Harapan government should look at mechanisms that would allow for the growth of both businesses and the quality of life of Malaysian workers. As much as it is a difficult task, this is what the government is there for.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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