COMMENT | In recent weeks, we have been occupied with the question of whether the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston’s claim is correct or false.
Alston concluded that Malaysia’s absolute poverty rate cannot be 0.4 percent but was closer to 15 percent. Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali immediately dismissed the report as unacceptable and irresponsible, while Prime Minister Dr Mahathir said the government will study the claim and may review the figures.
Nevertheless, Mahathir also ridiculed the report by saying, "It is not as bad as what is pointed out by the people who come here for one day, stay in a big hotel and then pass judgement”.
Let me talk about my interaction with around 70 cleaners who attended a retreat in Camp Perasaan near Taiping last weekend. This was not a venue of a 5-star hotel but a low budget resort.
I was one of the resource persons and the group who attended were all hospital cleaners who work in government hospitals. These are the same people who work and keep our overcrowded government hospitals clean.
When I asked them what were their salaries, they said that they were paid RM1,100. When I asked the most senior person in the group who has worked for 30 years, the shocking answer was that his salary was also RM1,100.
They received the minimum wage irrespective of their years in service. They were employed through a contractor employed by the government.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia has always taken a position opposing contract work for permanent workers. This is an abuse of the system and a manipulation. It goes against the norms of job security enshrined in our constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Then, I compared their salaries with top salaries or income earned by CEOs in Malaysia in the year 2017. When I shared these figures, they were shocked.
Obscene Salaries of CEOs
These figures were taken from publicly published reports and FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI index list (accurate as of May 31, 2018). The report looked at the very top companies.
To put the record straight, these are 2017 income figures and are not data on the top ten richest persons, which would definitely be much higher. One can oneself search for this on Google.
Just for those who think that these are pre-14th general election wages: Let me also state that the earnings of top earners in 2018 are higher than in 2017. I cite the 2017 salaries as a comparison because the report does mention salaries and bonuses paid, unlike the 2018 report.
Now we take Sime Darby Plantation - a government-linked company - CEO Mohd Bakke Salleh’s salary for 2017. His total salary and remunerations was RM7.8 million in 2017. That would work out to RM 652,416 a month. Now would someone dare to compare this with the earnings of a plantation worker under Sime Darby?
Now let’s take another GLC, Petronas. Petronas Chemicals Group CEO Sazali Hamzah was paid RM1,013,352 for his services to the company for the year 2017. That would work out to a monthly income of RM84,446.
Now let’s see what two other GLCs pay their CEOs. In 2017, Malayan Banking Berhad paid its CEO Abdul Farid Alias a salary of RM2,400,000, and the bonuses alone amounted to RM4,300,000.
Now, the report says his total earnings was RM8.7 million, and if I break this down to monthly income, it works out to RM727,916 a month. If I further break it down to a daily wage, it would be around RM24,000.
What about the CEO of Tenaga Nasional who has proposed a bill hike? This is yet another GLC, and its CEO Azman Mohd's total salary and bonuses for 2017 were RM3,494,120 and RM3,000,000, respectively.
With other benefits added, his total annual income was reported as RM7,247,219. That works out to a total monthly income of RM603,935 and an estimated daily earning of RM20,131.
Now let’s look at the top earner of 2017, Public Bank CEO Tay Ah Lek. He earned RM27 million in 2017. The current top earner for 2018 is RM80.6 million from Genting Berhad.
The Public Bank CEO’s salary was RM11,079,000 and he got a bonus of almost RM16 million (RM15,974,000). His total income for 2017 was RM27.8 million.
That means if we break down the total income, it will work out to RM2.3 million monthly and RM77,000 daily. If we break this down to 24 hours even though no one works 24 hours, his salary would be around RM3,200 an hour. That is almost three times our minimum wage.
Now let’s compare the top CEO’s one-day income with the monthly income of our cleaners at the government hospitals. It will take our cleaners almost 6 years to get the CEO’s one day salary, and it will take them around 174 years to get his one-month salary.
Isn’t this obscene? Every time when we want to raise the minimum wage, there is massive opposition as if these poor workers are going wreak havoc on the economy.
Most of the top multimillion ringgit earners in Malaysia are GLCs. If this is not daylight robbery, what do we call it?
Looking at these figures, one wonders whether it is actually necessary to debate on our poverty rate. We talk about racial divisions yet the rich-poor gap remains unbridgeable.
May the workers get real freedom from poverty and low wages. Happy Merdeka!
S ARUTCHELVAN is the deputy chairperson of PSM.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.