New Malaysia’s new Dewan Rakyat is set to be sworn in on 16 July 2018. As the Member of Parliament for Setiawangsa, one of my top priorities is quite simple: jobs, jobs, jobs.
The urgency of this cannot be overstated.
For one thing, Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto pledged to create one million high-quality jobs within five years (including 200,000 for Sabah and Sarawak).
Malaysia’s unemployment rate stands at 3.3 percent. This is relatively low, but this is not something to celebrate when we consider a March 2017 Bank Negara report which found that youth unemployment in 2015 was around 10.7 percent —with 15.3 percent of youths with tertiary education not having jobs.
More worryingly, the same report found that from 2011-2017, the number of low-skilled jobs created doubled to 16 percent from 8 percent in 2002-2010, while highly-skilled jobs shrank to 37 percent from 45 percent in the same period.
70 percent of Malaysia’s workforce have low education levels (SPM and below) and are hence shut out from better-paying jobs. Indeed, 70.4 percent of jobs in Malaysia are in nine sectors which offer median wages of less than MYR1700 a month.
In 2013, Malaysia’s median and mean monthly wages were RM1500 and RM2052 respectively. By 2017, these had grown to RM2160 (up 44 percent) and RM2880 (up 40.35 percent) respectively.
In contrast, labour productivity in 2013 was RM59,622 and grew to RM78,218 (up 31.12 percent) in 2016. Indeed, labour productivity between 2015 and 2016 grew by just 3.5 percent compared to median and mean monthly wage growth of 6.2 percent and 6.3 percent respectively in that same period.
We surely can be doing better on all these counts.
These issues are of course not new to the public discourse.
Indeed, the new Pakatan Harapan government has a long “laundry list” of policy issues that touch on jobs—whether directly or indirectly—to tackle.
Off the top of my head, these include:
- How do we revamp our education system to meet the Fourth Industrial Revolution? How do we teach crucial skills for the future like coding, STEM, soft skills and problem-solving properly—to all Malaysian children, rich and poor—without taking the joy out of learning?
- What can be done to retrain long-term unemployed graduates, as well as existing low-skilled, young workers whose careers have stagnated? What can be done to address the on-going problem of youth indebtedness?
- How do we ensure that technical and vocational jobs not only pay well, but are also accorded higher social status than they enjoy currently? In this regard, the formation of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Empowerment Committee under Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar is a step in the right direction.
- How do we tackle discriminatory practices, encourage work-life balance and better workplace conditions without strangling businesses—especially small- and medium-enterprises—with red tape? How do we break the glass ceiling for women in terms of pay?
- How do we encourage foreign investment that can create high-quality jobs without compromising our national interests?
- How do we reduce our reliance on foreign labour without resorting to xenophobic measures? How do we better protect migrant labourers in Malaysia?
- How do we manage the minimum wage to ensure that it looks out for the interests of both workers and employers?
- How do we reform, consolidate or improve existing bodies like the National Wages Consultative Council, Human Resources Development Fund and TalentCorp Malaysia
- Without overregulation, how do we protect the rights and interests of members of the creative industry, freelancers and workers in the so-called “gig economy”?
- How do we ensure that the solutions proposed for these challenges do not simply degenerate into vehicles for political patronage?
Clearly, creating good, productive jobs for Malaysians is not the exclusive responsibility of any one Ministry or agency.
It not only involves our economic and labour policies but also how we approach education, law enforcement, social issues and geopolitics.
I am sure that our new government has plans and initiatives to address these issues.
Malaysians should rest assured that my parliamentary colleagues and I will not only support, but also scrutinize and monitor these efforts with a fine-tooth comb.
As I said, job creation and skills training—especially for young Malaysians—cannot be allowed to fall prey to political rent-seekers.
In fact, the main challenge moving forward will be political will.
The new government and parliament will need to resist pressure from vested interests opposed to the needed reforms for their several reasons—that much is obvious.
But the Pakatan Harapan must also strive to avoid, or, even better, quickly and comprehensively resolve jurisdictional turf wars as well as genuine ideological differences on how to approach policy questions.
It will not be easy, but it must be done. Communication is always key.
One thing that could be done is for the government to set up an intra-governmental task force on job creation—to plan, coordinate and execute the relevant educational, job creation and skills training initiatives undertaken by the various Ministries and agencies.
Oversight to that task force can also be provided by the creation of a new Parliamentary Select Committee on Jobs, which will of course regularly obtain feedback and insights from both industry as well as civil society groups.
It goes without saying that the executive should also of course regularly consult the legislature, business and non-governmental organisations on this matter.
We cannot and should not lose sight on what many Malaysians need: jobs, jobs, jobs.
NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the Pakatan Harapan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat Youth Leader. He is also the Member of Parliament for Setiawangsa and formerly a Selangor State EXCO. He has written a few books in Malay and English