LETTER | The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) welcomes the move by Putrajaya to reactivate the Social Protection Council (MySPC) to formulate social security policies, as announced by Economic Affairs Minister Mustapa Mohamed.
We are pleased that the government, in reactivating MySPC, sees the urgency to address the plight of millions of informal workers who do not contribute to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) or Social Security Organisation (Socso) and the elderly who do not have enough savings for post-retirement.
We strongly urge the government to expand the scope of MySPC to also cover workers denied fair living wages, who are thus forced to live in abject poverty in Kuala Lumpur and other urban centres across the country.
These workers and their families clearly need a social security net as employers remain persistent in refusing to pay them living wages to sustain the high cost of living in their respective cities.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) yesterday issued another predictable statement, claiming that many businesses would fold up if the living wage in urban cities is set at RM2,700 per month, as proposed by MTUC.
The MTUC proposal is based on the Bank Negara Malaysia 2017 annual report, which said many low-wage employees across the countries are having difficulties to attain a minimum acceptable living standard.
It is inconceivable that after 60 years of independence and many years of economic boom, Malaysian employers still claim they will go bankrupt if they pay workers a salary which reflects the cost of living in urban areas.
MTUC challenges MEF to prove this absurd claim with facts and figures - or admit that it is merely making another wild allegation to the detriment of lowly-paid workers.
It must be noted that the MTUC had urged that Malaysian workers be paid living wages to help the government achieve its policy of having Malaysians take over the jobs traditionally held by foreign workers.
This includes 3D (dangerous, demanding and demeaning) positions in the construction, manufacturing and services industries in urban areas, where the minimum wage of RM1,200 monthly is far from adequate.
Malaysian workers should not be asked to take on these jobs unless they are offered a salary and benefits that will enable them to survive the high costs of living.
By continuing to deny workers in urban areas a living monthly wage of RM2700, the government and employers will only be demonstrating their insincerity in replacing foreign workers with local ones.
As such MTUC is against any attempt by politicians and employers to force and exploit unemployed local workers into taking over 3D jobs from foreigners, without making a conscious effort to push for better wages so that they can survive the escalating costs of living in urban centres.
The employers and the MEF, in general, have been adamant in denying workers fair wages and salary increments over the years, so as to protect their excessive profits.
The Covid-19 pandemic has now become the perfect excuse for employers to retrench workers, cut their salaries arbitrarily or force them to take unpaid leave. MTUC has detected certain employers using Covid-19 for union-busting and to sack union officials who were merely defending the rights of their members.
This self-centred mentality of many employers has worsened over the years and emboldened by the ever business-friendly policies of the government, much to the detriment of workers.
Putrajaya must introduce effective social policies
As such, if the government continues to be duped by feeble excuses meted out by unscrupulous employers to deny workers fair wages, Putrajaya must then introduce effective social policies to help this group of workers.
The Social Protection Council must draw up the necessary mechanisms to provide a monthly ‘top-up’ subsistence as a social security net to enable workers in urban areas to take home a pay packet of RM2,700.
The cost of this scheme should be shared between the government and employers, especially key economic stakeholders who can be incentivised with appropriate tax cuts.
We urge the SPC to take the lead on this, or otherwise, the majority of Malaysian workers in our cities will remain in dire straits and be burdened with household debts. Also, the government’s hopes of wooing them to take over the jobs from migrants will fall flat.
MTUC also flatly rejects MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan’s assertion that local workers do not have the right attitude in taking on jobs traditionally held by foreigners.
Employers cannot exploit Malaysian workers to work 12 hours daily, like the migrant workers who have been inhumanly exploited all the while.
By running down the work ethnics of local workers, Shamsuddin is simply giving an unvalidated, one-sided view to paint Malaysians in a bad light so that employers can be justified in hiring migrant workers at deplorable salaries.
He continues to perpetuate such a myth as many employers do, merely to keep employing migrant workers at low salaries. In fact, many Malaysians are working overseas doing 3D jobs, but are paid much better.
There are enough examples in the various industries to show that local workers are a hardworking and dedicated lot who give their best, despite being underpaid by their employers.
J SOLOMON is secretary-general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC).
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.