MTUC slams PM remark on low wage

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks on accepting low wages has drawn ire from the Malaysian Trades Union Congress. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, May 2, 2019

PRIME Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remark that accepting low wages is better than having no job can send the wrong message to employers, said the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC).

Its secretary-general J. Solomon today said it can be a signal that slave labour or sweatshop conditions are acceptable in the country.

He added employers may use that as an excuse to continue paying workers low wages.

“A debate about low wage and no pay should not even be in the equation as employers may think it is legitimate to give low wages. 

“It is not politically correct to argue for low wage when it is already established by Bank Negara’s study and many others that workers are facing financial problems,” he said in a statement. 

Solomon also cited a Khazanah Research Institute report released last October on the absolute earnings gap between Malaysia’s top 20% and the rest had nearly doubled, putting more Malaysians in relative poverty. 

He said “the low wage or no wage” debate will only deepen inequality and retard demand for goods and services necessary to sustain output and employment growth.

He added if workers earn less, they will also spend less – causing demand for goods and services to fall.

“When employers do not pay decent wage, it will ultimately be a significant burden on the government, for it will need to seek ways to pay the poor, particularly the B40, at a later period.”

Solomon said it is regrettable that very little appreciation is given to workers from the 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) sector, despite their important contribution to the country’s growth and environment.

Because of this, he said it is important for policymakers to have a strategy to tackle the causes of low wage, as well as the characteristics of low-paid work that lead to job insecurity. 

 “The increased risk of job insecurity exacerbates the impact of low wage on individual and family living standards.

“They will have limited ability to build up economic assets, such as housing, and low contribution to EPF (Employees’ Provident Fund), poor retirement life that will inevitably burden the government eventually.”

Solomon said when all jobs have decent wages, workers will be willing to take them on.

“It is time for the government to help these workers who are trapped in this sector by making their environment better and provide adequate safety and security measures – not tell them to be eternally grateful for the 3D jobs.”

He said Dr Mahathir should clarify his point, since he himself had admitted that wages are low in his remark. 

Yesterday, Dr Mahathir said Malaysians unwilling to work 3D jobs because of low wages can choose between such wages and getting nothing at all.

“The pay is low but if you don’t work, you don’t get anything. You choose,” he has said after the Labour Day celebration in Putrajaya. – May 2, 2019

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