Sunday, July 08, 2007

Minimum wage, graduate unemployment by Ng Eng Kiat

Last Friday I met an old friend from back in the 80's at the Masjid AlNoor.
It happened like this;
That Friday I changed my mind at the last minute from going to musalla at Lincoln Rd for Friday prayer, simply because I got this feeling, the urge to go to Masjid AlNoor. I havent been there for Friday prayer 3 weeks. When I arrive there the palce was full, so I did the usual trick of walking straight to the front.
After prayer, I waited longer until almost everybody was gone before making my way out. At the front of the notice board Fendi showed me the advert about halal slaughterman, and he was also talking to a Malay guy in coat that I havent seen before. But hey how come that voice sound familiar. Then he recognised me, but still I cant placed him in my memory. After him mentioning about my usual friends here, Nadzri, Kamaruddin and Shah, then I remember, Rahmad Hamzah.
So that Friday I stayed a bit longer and filled him in whats happening here since he went back to Malaysia.
Among other things we were yakking was about the competitiveness of Malaysian kids in school and the heavy workload they have to endure.
e.g 4 year old kids are expected to be able to read and write.
when kids attend kindergarten they are taught to read write and count and expected to master them.
heavy bags and workload.
at SPM level, or what is it called now.. students shows off having scored 17A, 18A and even 19A.
because of the heavy workload, students style of learning are different than in the NZ. He said that in Malaysia, kids just rote learn and spoonfed. they dont actually be creative and learn the proper way.
I assured him that over in NZ, more time for kids to play, and no pressure cooker environment. I agree with him, pessure cooker education system doesnot do much good for the kids in later life. They cant think outside the box, and are not creative in solving problems.
As a successful developer, Rahmad come across graduate engineers product of local university who cannot solve problems on construction site.
That is the reason why there are thousands of unemployed graduates in Malaysia. They simply cant work, and not creative. Add to that, being graduate, thay expect graduate jobs with graduate salary, which doesnt exist anymore (well not that much anyway) in a country comparable to the West.
In the West, its normal for graduate to start work doing menial jobs, as waiters at restaurants and service workers even at supermarkets earning minimum wages. There is no price tag attached to a degree.
A degree simply carry no status. Everyone is equal. But everyone can expect to earn at least minimum wage.
Cant everyone see the connection between thousands of menial jobs go begging in factories and industries and thousands of highly 'educated' Malaysians unemployed?
Yes the mismatch in wages. Make minimum wage become law at a rate liveable, then people dont really care if they have high education or not.
This article is in Malaysiakini. I found it interesting.

Minimum wage my foot!
Ng Eng Kiat | Jul 7, 07 3:09pm
Market economy dictates our labour market, so says a government reluctant on implementing the not-so-new protectionist power tool we otherwise conceptualise as "minimum wage".

Tough luck, employees, it is totally up to your handlers to decide on what you deserve, and if it's peanuts you get, munch quick.

"Minimum wage my foot!"

How much lower can one go? Getting paid an earning which is lower than the official poverty line seems to be quite the norm within modern Malaysia's working class.

And yet, the government manages one notch lower, by politely asking her nation's workers to "refrain from demanding" and "start negotiating", whilst churning rhetoric after rhetoric that minimum wage hurts the economy, that minimum wage only benefits foreign workers, and that minimum wage deserves an in-your-face "not welcomed here".

Excruciating cost of living has pushed up the poverty line, but salaries remain quite the same as they were 15 years ago. Malaysia's workers are a poor lot, and a distressed lot, too, judging from the nationwide pickets organised by Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) to demand for a minimum wage of RM900 and Cost of Living Allowance of RM300.

With the average of RM700 many workers earn today, minus EPF savings, you have barely enough to pay your rent, bills, and put food on the table for your family, everyday. Saving RM50 each month is an achievement so profound you are tempted to spend it on repairing that leaking roof. Never mind if your house is painted with the words "Roboh" followed by a date not too distant in the future.

You won't be able to afford pay TV, fast-food meals, or a car. The value of your life significantly decreases if you ride a motorcycle, the cheapest, but most dangerous, mode of transport available. Public transport does not reach your workplace. You can take the factory bus, with a cut in wages, of course.

"Life is cheap!"

You work, and you rest. You are not encouraged to think a lot, and when you actually do, you are given patronisingly pacifying propaganda that confuse you. And you stop.

But thousands more, thousands who don't even qualify to be in your class suffer in silence still. As high as 70 percent of our university graduates cannot find employment, a huge number of them supposedly unemployable, and many who do find jobs find themselves exploited, in one way or another. You are not alone.

In fact, graduate level salaries here are only comparable with what workers are paid in "a tiny island without opportunities" called Singapore.

"Singapore is not a real country!"

So, of course, they find a way to pay their workers better, too.

Graduates who do not bother looking for employment here go there, and in due course, get paid unreal salaries.

I had the chance to talk to two very interesting friends of mine recently. Both are real Malaysians, both freshly completed the real Malaysian education (STPM and public university), one of which is earning a real Malaysian salary, the other has rejected numerous offers deemed too bad to be real.

Nicole* studied film in university and had a taste of things to come in her two month internship with one of Malaysia's many production houses. Most of the work she experienced there involved manual labour, required specific on-the-job skills, which were not related at all to her experience on campus, was dominated by males, and didn't need much language skills.

Granted, it could have been one of the lower grade houses, but the fact that her university approved of her internship there indicated the general quality of Malaysia's production scene, and gave Nicole second thoughts about pursuing a career in it.

Third job in a month

A year later, studies completed, she started her job hunt and quickly got an offer for the position of Management Trainee at a monthly salary of RM1200 in a company that claimed to do business with multinational F&B companies.

Her first, and last, day at work with this company was spent walking the streets of Kepala Batas, pushing some Korean oat biscuit to potential customers. Modus operandi was to walk up to anyone who looks interested enough to buy some crackers, and sell them the consumables, RM10 per box.

Nicole's second job was much more promising. Her position: Education Counselor. Job objective: Find students to enroll in part-time professional diplomas offered by two public universities in Malaysia. Employer: A middle-person company in partnership with the two public universities. Modus operandi, flip through Yellow Pages, locate companies who deal with work related to whatever courses those universities offer, call them up to enquire if their workers might be interested to study for a diploma.

"Hello, I am Nicole from Universiti Terbagus Malaysia*, can I speak to your wireman? You see, we are offering this part-time professional course for people like you, can I come meet you to discuss further?"

Nicole lasted five days as Education Counsellor. Zero sign-ups, not a single cent was paid to her.

Within a month, Nicole got her third job, one at an events management company she has stuck to with utmost inner strength, earning RM1200 a month. Job title: Operations Executive cum Accounts Executive. In other words, general clerk-in-chief. Skills required on the job: Literate in Microsoft Office applications, mathematically sound, and keen on company procedures.

Nicole plans to work up the ladder, she already has her budget worked out to RM250 for rent, RM200 for petrol, RM300 for meals (RM10 per day), RM50 for utilities, RM75 for phone calls. Minus EPF, she has an extra RM150 to either send home to mum, or splurge.

My other friend, Mandy*, is getting tired, just three months into her job search.

"Now, I just aim to get a job, any job, before my convocation in August as it would be terribly embarassing to have to state my employment status as jobless in the compulsory survey forms," she says.

Limited job opportunities

Similar to Nicole, Mandy studied Broadcasting in university and decided against joining the crazy, but very limited, world of Malaysian television upon completion of her final semester. She now aspires to join the service industry, hoping to build a career slowly.

It has not been easy for Mandy, she wants to stay in Penang, but finds job opportunities there too limited.

After having no luck looking through newspaper advertisements and online job sites, Mandy turned to a recruitment firm for help.

"No job match."

Mandy then started to go through even the newspaper classifieds. Not a great place for graduate level work adverts, but what the heck.

For the record, she has now gotten two interviews in two months, both ended up offering her a paltry RM900 per month.

"I will accept any job that pays what a graduate deserves," says Mandy.

And how much is that?

"At least RM1200, or I'll be following my friends to Singapore in January."

NG ENG KIAT is doing postgraduate studies, against strong advice from many, at the same local university he recently completed his first degree.


fudzail said...

siapa rahmad hamzah? Batch mana?

nooryahaya said...

kawan baik iskandar ngah ni. satu batch. about 2-3 yrs younger than us 67. he is in our egroup.