Thursday, December 04, 2008

Minimum Wage Issue

As I said in my long ago postings, Minimum Wage is about EQUITY and ability to bargain. Those who have the much sought after skills would be able to extract most from the economy, ie get better pay. While those who are unable to bargain forcefully, or whose skills not highly valued, ends up with crumbs.

Role of a Govt is to enact laws that provide JUSTICE, EQUITY and FREEDOM for its citizens.


You judge for yourselves, if the performance of Malaysian Government if dismal at best, or a total failure.

HARSH WORDS, but someone has to say it.

I have cut and pasted this letter from Malaysiakini.

Minimum wage now!
Michelle Lee | Dec 4, 08 4:15pm

I refer to the Malaysiakini report No minimum wage as yet.

Like many comfortable desk-bound employees, I often take for granted that there is no pungent smell of unwashed toilets floating around in the office. I take for granted that the dustbin in my room is emptied daily.

And mostly, I take for granted the men and women who are as essential to the company, as the managers, the supervisors, the officers and the clerks.

I was chatting with Kak Nur last week, at the end of a long day. I knew she worked two jobs, one as a cleaner with the company during the day, and the other making sushi during the night.

For her labour in the two jobs, totaling an ungodly 15 hours a day (enough to make any grown man faint from exhaustion) she takes home RM900 a month: RM600 from the day job, and RM300 from the night job.

I assumed she was unmarried. Who would have time or energy left? But I was wrong. She had three children. The youngest was just a year old. And to top it off, her husband had just left her six months ago, which was the driving reason for her taking up the second job.

I wanted to empty my bank account for her, but I knew that could not be the answer. The poor do not need perpetual hand-outs that make us feel good about ourselves, but which do nothing for their next generation, and the generation after them. We need policies that work for them.

One such policy which I believe is long overdue, is a minimum wage framework. Because when we allow private companies to pay pittance, we demean the work of another’s hands. By allowing it to go on for as long as it has, we have inevitably demeaned their personhood.

And we continue to scorn their dignity by saying that they are not worth that much. We say to them that they are negligible. That they are of little, or no value at all.

This is happening right here, in a multi-national company in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. I know for a fact that this is being replicated a thousand times over here in the city, and a hundred thousand times over in the rural areas, where plantation workers, tea leaf pickers and rubber tappers break their backs and give their lives for less than RM500 a month.

Minimum wage is not an ‘ideal policy’. It is a necessary policy that must be put in place to act as a check and balance on capitalism, which if left unregulated will and has manifested into uncontrolled greed, where the poor cannot afford a RM3.50 meal, and the rich pay RM200,000 for a two-seater sofa set.

So I say to this government and to the human resources Ministry, gor goodness’ sake, if you want to regulate something, regulate the right things. Impose a minimum wage now, because relying on the conscience of Big Business isn’t going to take the thousands of Kak Nurs out there very far.

And please, stop mouthing ridiculous statements like ‘Implementing minimum wages is not feasible’. Not feasible for whom? The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers? The Malaysian Employers Federation? I don’t think Kak Nur would have a problem with it though.

Finally, to you, the populace, who sit comfortably in your swept rooms. The tea-lady and the cleaner whom you meet everyday, her labour is as essential as yours is. Do not demean him or her by remaining silent.

Jerit, an NGO that has been petitioning for a minimum wage since the 1990s, recently launched a cycling campaign starting from Alor Setar and which will culminate in the handover of a memorandum to the prime minister on Dec 18.

Their goal is to raise awareness on the need for a minimum wage policy along the way. If you can’t cycle, go adopt a cyclist now.

Each of us can only do so much by giving hand-outs to individuals. One voice alone, while good, may not be as effective. As history has taught us, our government is a little hard of hearing. It took a collective jerit on March 8 to (hopefully) knock some sense in.

What is now needed is another jerit for those with no voice, a jerit for the implementation of a necessary policy to empower the poor, and to restore their dignity by affirming the worth of their labour.

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