It is a sad day for workers in Malaysia, more so for those in the private sector, when our Prime Minister, in his Budget 2015 speech seem to have forgotten to make serious allocations to end the exploitation and precarious state that workers and unions find themselves in today.
Workers should have been a major priority in light of the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, which downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3 from the previous standing of Tier 2 Watch List, and the main reason was because of worker exploitation.
Workers should have been a major priority when Malaysia was ranked among the worst countries in the world to work in, according to the recently released International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index
Minimum Wage – Only 3 Employers Taken To Court?
Malaysia’s priority has been, and maybe still is, to draw in the foreign investor to invest in Malaysia, and one of thing that Malaysia offered was cheap docile labour. Even when it came to basic minimum wages, it was only finally in 2012 that Malaysia made it mandatory, but even then so many employers were given exemptions by the government, and the finally all workers in Malaysia became fully entitled to receive minimum wage on 1 January 2014.
But even recently, the Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abd Muttalib stated that about 10,000 employers in the private sector have yet to implement the Minimum Wage Scheme since it was enforced on 1st January.(Malay Mail, 20/9/2014, Malaysia Nearly 10,000 employers yet to implement Minimum Wage Scheme)
The Deputy Minister tried to belittle this failure to protect workers by stating that this was only five per cent of the 200,000 employers – but the real question is how many thousands or millions of workers have been denied this right to get a basic wage of RM900 per month in Peninsular Malaysia, or RM800 per month for those in Sabah and Sarawak which rightly they should have been enjoying since latest July 2013, if not by reason of the exemptions granted to certain employers and also the lack of enforcements. The disturbing fact is that only 3 employers out that 10,000 have been taken to court. I would want to believe, that this lack of enforcement and taking of action against errant employers could only be by reason of lack of human resources and resources in the Human Resource Ministry. I would not want to believe that this was because of a lack of political will or a ‘pro-employer – not bothered about workers’ policy of the Malaysian government.
Propagating an environment of worker exploitation?
The Deputy Minister suggested that workers should lodge complaints – but alas, workers are just too afraid for worry that their employers would simply terminate them if they do so. What is needed is active enforcement, and this means the Human Resource Ministry officials must take an active proactive role to ensure that all employers are actually paying their workers basic minimum wages, and respecting all worker rights and the law.
We find that even in 2014, save for capitals of States and Federal Territories, there is not even an Industrial Relations Department(IRD) in all the towns, and this is the place a worker who wrongfully gets dismissed will go to lodge complaints. To expect a worker to travel 100 plus kilometers to lodge a complaint about wrongful dismissal and claim justice may lead one to the conclusion that the government really is not interested in justice for workers. Remember the meetings for conciliation is also there. Unemployed and with no income makes it a real burden for workers.
No Allocation For Legal Aid For Workers Claiming Rights
At the Human Resource Departments (or Labour Office), workers can go and lodge complaints against employers for non-payment of wages, overtime, rest days and various other violation of worker rights – but the fact is that the ordinary workers really needs legal assistance to be able formulate and quantify their claim, and more important prove their claim in the Labour Court if and when attempts of reconciliation fails and it proceeds to trial.
Inadequacy Of Officers And Courts Delays Justice
Access to justice for workers is there in the Industrial Relations Department and the Human Resource (Labour) Department, and if unresolved by conciliation by the Labour Courts or the Industrial Courts – and the biggest complaints by workers and trade unions is slowness of the entire process. A wrongful dismissal case can take several years which is most detrimental to justice, remembering that the worker and their families are the ones suffering while the employer happily carries one with their business and profit making. Again, this state of affairs can only be because of the lack of officers, judges, IRD offices and even courts, and there should have been a substantial budget allocation to improve this situation to demonstrate that Malaysia is indeed truly concerned about workers.
The Malaysian government failed to ensure that workers continued to enjoy regular employment until retirement – hence opening the doors to more precarious forms of employment like fixed term or short term contracts and the ‘contractor for labour system’. The later allows workplaces to be able to use workers of third parties hence able to avoid employer obligations and duties for after all these 3rd party workers are not their employees. Thanks to these, without employment security, workers so easily lose their jobs and become unemployed maybe not for long but maybe until they find a new job, and the government has to really provide for a government unemployment benefit scheme because today monthly financial commitments continue and without income, it is so easy for workers and their families financial situation to slide affecting general wellbeing of the family
Growing income and benefits for workers will be guaranteed by regular employment until retirement. On the other hand, precarious short-term employment contracts and the contractor for labour system throws the worker out in the employment market repeatedly forcing them to find new jobs whereby this may mean income and benefits may actually decrease or even stagnate.
Wasted Skills By Reason of Precarious Employment
The government talks about getting more skilled workers, and skill is also achieved at the workplace. A worker in the electronic industry who has gained skills is let go after his 9 months contract expires despite the fact that the workplace still requires workers. The worker then is forced to find another job when there may be no other nearby electronics factory hiring and the worker ends up employed in a totally different industry – hence a loss of all the skills obtained in his prior employment.
Budget 2015 – Private sector workers not a priority and no financial allocations?
Well, looking at paragraph 96 in the Prime Minister’s speech talked about reviewing labour laws, something that the government has always been talking about and most amendments of late have generally not been helpful to workers or their unions. He talks about an ‘employment Insurance System aimed at assisting retrenched workers by giving temporary financial assistance as well as providing opportunities for reskilling and upskilling’ – but what about other employed workers by reason of end of their short-term employment contracts, those who have been allegedly wrongfully dismissed by employers and those who escape exploitative employers or maybe even sexual harassment who are unemployed through resignation.
Low Interest Loans For Private Sector Employees - MBSB
Private sector workers also need to get homes, and unlike public sector employees who have access to low interest loans, no provision for such loans is made available to private sector workers. Now, the money of the private sector workers are in the Employees Provident Fund(EPF), who at present owns about 65% of the shares in Malaysian Building Society Berhad(MBSB), which provides housing loan. Maybe, this could be used to provide housing loans at the same terms as what is now available to public sector employees.
We Want Rights Not Discretionary ‘Handouts’
In this budget, the government continues to treat Malaysians, including workers, like 'beggars' through uncertain financial assistance like the BR1M which is not a guaranteed right, but something that depends on the discretion of the government. We may have it in 2015 but in 2016 may be no more. Malaysians prefer not to be dependent on such ‘charity’ but would rather prefer employment and financial security.
Workers And The Marginalized Must Be Priority
Malaysian government must never forget that it serves all of us here in Malaysia, and priority should really be given to the poor and marginalized – workers included. Like Malaysia, workers desire economic and financial stability – whereby regular employment until retirement will guarantee increasing income and benefits that grows with tenure. When denied of rights or exploited, they demand speedy justice. Workers also need active proactive enforcement by officers of the Human Resource Ministry, just like our police and Local Council Workers are doing to catch drivers who fail to display their parking tickets. Workers also need Unemployment Benefits when they are in a state of unemployment. But alas, the Budget speech seems to have failed to address the concerns of the majority of workers, especially those in the private sector.
If this does not change, Malaysia may very well continue to be listed as one of the worst countries for workers and trade unions.