Wednesday, July 25, 2007

MInimum Wage Issue

One of my previous writing on this issue was in letter section of Malaysiakini. Everyone entitled to his/her opinion, so one Azhar wrote this.

Ideally, in a free labour market, free capital market and free good market, everyone would be JUSTLY compensated, whether he is an entrepreneur, public/private servant or self employed.
Ideally, all who earns a living would chip in for the care and expenses of those who are unable to work, ie the incapacitated, the old and the young. In one for or another.
In a civilized society like Malaysia, we elect a Government to act on our behalf to do thing that we cannot do ourselves to attain a civilized society. ie defense, policing, taking care or the weak in society and fair distribution of national income.
Why taking care of the weak in society and fair distribution of National Income important?
Because that is related to peace and rate of crime. If the rich hogging a large portion of resources (read: wealth) and the poor hungry, very soon the poor would just take (read: steal, rob) from the rich.
'What you dont want to give, we will take.'
We have seen many unrest and revolution in history. No one the winner, neither the rich, nor the poor.

Now back to the main title of Minimum Wage.
Ideally, I would 100% support the legislation of Minimum Wage Law. That is the first choice. Everyone should be paid at least the minimum wage, on prorata basis. I would go further to suggest that it is set on hourly rate basis. Just like in the Western Europe.
There is nothing wrong to follow good example.
When I say everyone, it means just that, whether local or foreign worker. I do not condone discrimination, and I loath to see rampant discrimination in my homeland Malaysia.

If Govt is incapable or unwilling to do that, (what kind of Govt is that?)I would suggest setting a standard minimum living income/wage, at least for our Malaysian citizen. If the employer doesnt pay as much as the minimum living wage, then the Govt shall top up the said worker's income.
Our collective income as a nation, (your wage, my salary, employers' profits etc totals National Income) shall be divided more or less equitably and fair to make everyone happy. If employers unwilling to pay decent wages (because they want to trade profitably) then it would be fair that Govt tax their profits to be distributed back to the workers. This is not 'daylight robbery' as Azhar claimed, but merely redistribution of resources (read: income/money) that the employer unwilling to do.
That is the function of a decent Govt.

I merely write about income top up, not the full Negative Income Tax. If we implement the full NIT, the bill would be horrendously high, and taxes would have to be much higher.

The easiest most common method would be to implement Minimum Wage Law. If we care so much about our nation competitiveness, we simply have to lower our exchange rate and improve our efficiency.
Minimum wage is about fair distribution of income, it has nothing to do with competitiveness.

Would 'pendatang tanpa izin' flood the country?
You see, they (pendatang tanpa izin) come to work, because there are plentiful jobs. Jobs that pay a pittance to Malaysians (eg RM10 a day for 12 hour day), that Malaysians dont want to do. (Who want to work for that much money? You are practically subsidizing the employer). If there is minimum wage of RM900 a month for 48 hour week (or RM4.20 per hour, millions of unemployed and underemployed Malaysians would be clamouring for available jobs, and the plentiful jobs would soon vanish. Employers would take steps to improve efficiency (because of higher wages).

The side effect is that workers have more disposable income to spend in the country which would improve the economy, which will create more jobs.

As in the West, Govt must make a rule that employers must search for local worker/talent first before employing foreign worker. The wages paid to either local or foreign worker must be the same, no discrimination.

Gee, I am tired, I want to go to sleep.

this article is from Malaysiakini.

Syed Shahir: Treat all workers as human beings
Su Hui Hsing | Jul 25, 07 11:32am

FIGHTING for a cause is definitely a long and arduous process laden with discouraging unknowns and grim prospects, the scariest of which is that all the hard work will be in vain. The odyssey of a trade or labour union is also, aptly put, laborious.

When Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud was elected president of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) in 2004, what the future held was unclear, but one thing was certain - that his task was to receive the baton from his predecessor and continue pursuing the unfinished business of the past.

The role of a trade union may be multi-faceted, but fundamentally, Syed Shahir fights for the rights of workers, who are prone to exploitation in a capitalist economy.

For MTUC, an umbrealla organisation that represents hundreds of trade unions and many times more workers nationwide, its role could be of an even higher order but the principle is still the same.

While the motivation for pursuing the rights could be political, social or economic, the one motivation that guides Syed Shahir is just to be human and sympathetic towards the helpless and hopeless.

"Human beings deserve to be treated like human beings. They should get what they deserve."

To him, it is as simple as that - upholding the dignity of his fellow human beings.

‘Most times are difficult’

While his 2004 victory was an encouraging milestone in his fight for his fellow workers, the journey has not been easy. His victory was not an easy one either. It has taken him persistence and five challenges for the presidency to be where he is today.

It seems like Syed Shahir will never be content with what he has achieved.

Asked when was the most difficult time during his work in the union, Syed Shahir said, "Most of the times have been difficult. To me, it is most difficult when you want to fulfill the wishes of your members. Other people might accept me and what I have done for them, but I cannot easily accept myself."

"For example, the dispute of the leadership of the National Union of Bank Employees was unresolved for many years. So when I took over in 2004, I promised that I would try to resolve the issue within three months. I failed within that period. It eventually took six to seven months. The moment you make the promise, until you resolve it, it is something that will tug at your heart."

In fact, Syed Shahir is now faced with a similar challenge.

Share of country’s rewards

He has been in the limelight a lot lately for MTUC's demand to the government to pass a legislation for a minimum wage of RM900 and a cost-of-living allowance of RM300 for workers in the private sector.

MTUC made it to the headlines lately for holding a nationwide picket for the cause. However, minimum wage is not a new endeavour that the congress has just undertaken. In fact, it started pushing for the policy eight years ago.

Two months ago, watching their counterparts in the civil service getting a rather hefty pay raise and anticipating the inflation that could possibly result, Syed Shahir and MTUC took up the challenge to step up MTUC's movement for the implementation of a minimum wage.

If anything, MTUC just wanted their workers to be able to enjoy a share of the rewards of the country's economic growth, which they have contributed towards, and have a form of social security in an increasingly expensive country to live in.

While he has been a unionist for more than 30 years, Syed Shahir's first encounter with unionism was rather indirect.

"I had several friends in KL then. I was helping them write up some articles and doing translation from English to Malay. So I got to know some friends who were in the trade union in 1972. The workers of an engineering company went on a strike so we helped them with translating some materials. There was a lot of industrial action at that time," said Syed Shahir, who hailed from Pahang, on his most remote but earliest involvement with union activities.

Syed Shahir was then working as a teacher on attachment. He then left the civil service to contest in the 1974 general election at the age of 21.

Now 55, Syed Shahir officially took on union activities when he became a member of the National Union of Transport Equipment Allied Industry Workers. He has been an active member of MTUC for about 15 years now.

‘Politics not interfering in my work’

Besides being a unionist, Syed Shahir is also a member of PKR, having been with PRM before it merged with PKR.

Syed Shahir dismissed arguments of his involvement in politics conflicting with his trade union movement.

He said, "Being in politics will not interfere in my work for MTUC. On the contrary, some causes pursued by certain politicians are in line with what MTUC is doing. We cannot impose our will on others. I believe in the free choice of a person. If I want to become a member of a political party, it's my choice."

On why unionists tend to be aligned to opposition parties, Syed Shahir said while the government protected the interests of investors and capitalists, unionists had to take a different position to support the workers. When he decided to support his members and oppose policies that are detrimental to the well being of the workers. He also stressed that there were members of the ruling party who were also involved in union activities.

In spite of the fact that the government has repeatedly expressed its disapproval towards the proposal, Syed Shahir and MTUC will relentlessly pursue the cause. Only three years after he took over the helm, Syed Shahir now faces the test of the burden that he was bequeathed with and hopefully, to bring it to completion.

Now, the time it will take for the government to give the nod to MTUC's minimum wage proposal, or whether it will give the much-desired nod at all, is still questionable. It may take months or years. It may not even happen during Syed Shahir's term as president. Nevertheless, he believes in laying the foundation for future generations to enjoy the fruits of the struggle.

The MTUC president added, "The struggle of any organisation will continue. Leaders come and go but the organisation remains. Only the speed and the phase will change."
SU HUI HSING is an intern with Malaysiakini.

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