There Need To Be A National Conversation On The Issue Of Jobs And Wages

The reaction of the MTUC to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s comments on jobs with low wages highlight, once again, the need for us to have an urgent and wide-ranging national conversation on these issues.

It is the duty and right of all Malaysians who can do so to work. Work—in all its forms—is an integral part of human dignity and self-worth.

But it is also their right to be paid fairly; so that they can build their lives and families, in healthy, safe and respectable conditions. It is the responsibility of our government, corporate and civil society leaders to make this happen.

Reputable bodies, including Bank Negara Malaysia and the Khazanah Research Institute have all convincingly argued that wages in our country are too low.

A genuine collaborative approach and consensus that involves all stakeholders must be sought to achieve economic justice and reform.

As I argued in my Labour Day message, Malaysia must improve the pay of its workers and provide greater job security. I strongly feel that our old growth model of low wages and low costs is simply no longer relevant to current national and global economic realities.

I also argued that the so-called 3D jobs (which was the source of controversy between the PM and MTUC) will become more attractive to Malaysian workers if the pay issue can be addressed. This in turn will also reduce our dependency on foreign labour and encourage greater reliance on automation.

In this respect, the Prime Minister’s other recent statement that the government is mulling a proposal to provide allowance and wage subsidies to local fresh graduates via employers to encourage hiring is certainly worth consideration.

I believe the proposals I mooted before in Parliament and in the media such as tax breaks for profitable companies who pass the savings as higher salaries for workers at the bottom tier; as well as support from both the public and private sectors for the various upskilling initiatives should be considered.

Indeed, all quarters—including the private sector—should support this. Higher wages, after all, will logically lead to a boost in spending, which will invariably benefit the private and public sector. This will also increase employee loyalty that allows employers to reap the benefit of investing in their training over the long run.

At the same time, while a minimum wage of RM1500 by 2023 must be achieved; a higher living wage tied to cost of living based on geographical conditions must also be introduced as recommended by Bank Negara. Previously I have recommended that the government procurement policy gives preference to companies that pay their workers a living wage.


Happy Labour Day 2019

I wish all Malaysians—particularly the men and women who toil in our factories, farms, educational institutions, homes and offices—a very Happy Labour Day.

The fast-approaching anniversary of Pakatan Harapan’s first year in office, should be a reminder to us that a lot more needs to be done to fulfill the manifesto on which we were elected.

Indeed, we ought to be doing more and better in relation to our promises to ensure economic justice for all our people. Labour Day 2019 should therefore spur us to truly uplift Malaysian workers.

A crucial plank in realising this is to fulfil our pledge to ensure a minimum wage of RM1500 by 2023—as well as create the kind of economy that can support such jobs. The simple fact is that Malaysians are not being paid enough.

Many of the public policy problems confronting the Pakatan Harapan government—including reducing the cost of living, making housing as well as healthcare affordable and increasing access to higher education—could also be addressed by resolving this problem.

It is also interesting to note that Bank Negara, in its 2017 Annual Report provisionally estimated that a “living wage” for Kuala Lumpur, in 2016, should have been between RM1500 (for a single adult) to RM6500 (for a couple with two children) per month.

Of course, this cannot be done simply by the government legislating it to be so and demanding that employers comply.

Rather, as a March 2018 Bank Negara paper argued: “The move towards productivity-led wage growth relies on wide-ranging support from all parts of the economy. Governments can foster a conducive environment for employers to improve productivity by ensuring the availability of good institutional support, minimal regulation on productive investment activities, and the affordability of training and higher-level education. Employers can train existing employees and provide incentives for them to upgrade their skills…

“Employees need to also recognise the importance of self-improvement to achieve a higher wage level that can sustain a minimum acceptable living standard, and take the initiative to upskill.”

Much can be done all-round. For instance, government procurement paradigms should be shifted to also ensure value-add to Bumiputera workers and entrepreneurs, rather than passively handing out contracts by getting them to commit to a roadmap to pay a living wage to their workers.

Also, profitable corporations should be given tax cuts on the condition that the savings be used to increase employee wages, especially at the lower level.

Initiatives to upskill, add value and retrain workers need to be supported by both the public and private sector, whether financially or in-kind. This includes in increasingly crucial areas like languages (including English), IT and other soft skills.

Efforts to get the differently-abled, senior citizens who wish to remain active as well as former drug addicts and ex-convicts who have paid their debt to society to work should likewise be supported by all.
Barriers—deliberate or otherwise—against women to have careers and raise families must be eliminated. Our country’s decades-long addiction to foreign labour must also cease—and again, ensuring living wages of all classes of work is key to this.

Also, Malaysian workers themselves must strive to improve their productivity and employability. This is a holistic process that requires everyone’s support. Pakatan Harapan needs to listen, and it needs to act if it is to do right by the working men and women of Malaysia.


Allegations By WSJ That Najib Pursued A Pro-China Foreign Policy To Cover Up The 1MDB Scandal Must Be Investigated

The Wall Street Journal has alleged that officials from China told their Malaysian counterparts that it would use its influence to persuade other countries to drop 1MDB-related investigations in return for stakes in Malaysian railway and pipeline projects for the Belt and Road Initiative.
It was also alleged that China offered to bug the Hong Kong homes and offices of WSJ reporters working on the 1MDB story.

More worryingly, it was also claimed that “secret talks” were held “…to let Chinese navy ships dock at two Malaysian ports”, although this apparently did not come to pass.

The report also noted that the Prime Minister at the time, Najib Razak had voiced support for China’s position in the South China Sea dispute.

If these allegations are true, it would suggest that the actions of the previous administration had seriously compromised Malaysia’s sovereignty and neutrality to protect certain political actors.

These claims must hence be thoroughly investigated, and stern legal action should be taken against the perpetrators if warranted.

Moreover, the government of the People’s Republic of China must come clean over whether these allegations are true or not. Merely denying by saying China does not interfere in the affairs of other countries is not sufficient.

I also hope that the Malaysian government will take positive steps to defend our legitimate rights over the South China Sea in light of these revelations.


Welcoming The Re-Opening Of Purchase Of Submarines

There have been media reports that the authorities have re-opened investigations into the controversial 2002 purchase of the two French Scorpene submarines.

This highly-welcome development vindicates years of work—not only by Pakatan Harapan figures—but also members of the media and civil society, who sought to expose the truth about the deals in the face of great adversity.

If the case has indeed been re-opened, the authorities must carry out the new investigations with all due dispatch and charge any party they believe is guilty of wrongdoing.

Moreover, the Pakatan Harapan government should recommit itself to ensuring greater transparency and accountability when it comes to defence and indeed, all forms of government procurement.

It should identify, publicise and implement measures to ensure that our taxpayer ringgits are not wasted and that our serving men and women are adequately equipped to defend our land.

The sorry, sordid saga of the Scorpene submarines should never be repeated again.