Malaysiakini Letter

Malaysian workers have a mountain to climb

Callistus Antony D’Angelus  |  Published:

LETTER | The proposals tabled by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) for the upcoming budget seems to have drawn an adverse reaction by the government, with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman both speaking out against increasing the retirement age to 65 years.

The position of the government is, unfortunately, predicated on some very flawed reasoning and assumptions.

When the retirement age was set at 55 years by the British when they ruled Malaya, life expectancy was around 55 years. It was never within the contemplation of policymakers anywhere that people would live 25 to 30 years after their retirement.

When the Employees ‘ Provident Fund was set up for workers in the private sector, life expectancy was much lower than it is today.

Even with the retirement age increased to 60, people have still a long way to go to sustain themselves after retiring.

The role of the government is to facilitate the creation of jobs. If there are individuals above the retirement age who want or need to work, but is forced to retire, that is also a form of unemployment. This needs to be factored into the overall unemployment figures of the country.

When people are employed, consumption increases in the aggregate. This creates more economic activity.

If it is suggested that the level of employment is static, it would mean that there is no economic growth or that the economic growth is only benefiting an elite class in the country through capital accumulation.

Every generation churns out new economic activity. The youth of today are not going to undertake the jobs done by the older generation – by and large at least.

New industries flourish and older industries reinvent themselves. The way in which the information technology industry has developed is a case in point. The economy is dynamic and regenerates itself.

We cannot be taking the position that things are constant and that when an older worker retires that position is occupied by a younger worker. Often, the jobs retire with the person and are not replaced.

On the matter of deadwood at workplaces, it points to the failure of the management to manage appropriately, and the blame cannot be apportioned to workers.

A vibrant system, where training and lifelong education is a central plank of employment, should be created. Where this is not the case, it points again to failed policies of the government.

Experience is also lost when people are still at their prime and are willing and able to contribute.

Undeniably, employment or the lack of employment opportunities is a growing global phenomenon and not confined to Malaysia alone.

To this end, the suggestion of a Cost of Living Allowance by the MTUC takes the form of a basic income for all Malaysians that would have the dual effect of alleviating the rising cost of living and increasing domestic consumption.

The system of employment in Malaysia needs a complete overhaul. It is unfortunate that more than a year after the new government has taken over very little seems to have changed.

The old system of a lack of democracy within the employment context still prevails.

The suggestion by the Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran that his ministry would introduce a star rating for workers’ unions based on their governance and service quality is truly baffling.

What would constitute service quality and good governance? Is that to be determined by the government?

It would have the effect of continuing to ensure that the trade union movement is a pliant tool of the government, something that the previous BN government worked hard to ensure.

Union leaders would be in a position where they would be competing with each other to ingratiate themselves to the government. An important facet of the check and balance mechanism of the government cannot be compromised on.

The Harapan government should be looking at restoring democratic institutions in the country, and the viability of the continued functioning of the Trade Union Affairs Department should be examined in that regard.

The Harapan government needs to buck up, or it would be seeing stars itself in the next general election.


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

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