Malaysians are renowned for selective human right fighting; whether it is for Malay’s rights, Hindu-Indian’s right, rights for particular stand with regards to religion, rights for clean and fair elections, women's right and what not. These movements are mainly led by those who have the intellectual capacity and physical means to transmit what’s bugging them.
However, who really speaks for the largely unheard and downtrodden group of Malaysians that form a crucial component of our much-touted Malaysia industrialization programme? After 30 years or more of industrialization, of the sales pitch that “Malaysia is a wonderful place to invest” etc, how much of fair share of the fruits labour been given to our factory workers?
Do they ever get anything from listing of their employers as well as the share price fluctuation, merger and acquisition exercises? Does the employers, notably SMIs, invest in a safe working environment as well as workers' amenities? How come they only get 10 days of gazetted holidays while the white collar workers get a few more days such as state holidays and other non-gazetted federal holidays? Do they get sufficient representation in figthing for what is fair to them like the bank employees?
Anybody wonder what we should do for them?
The 2009 1 May Declaration consist of 18 points including:
- immediately setting up a fund to assist retrenched workers with government allocation of RM5 billion
- ensure economic stimulus packages really create jobs
- government should discuss with local banks to extend or reduce housing installments of the lower income group
- allocate land for the unemployed to be involved in agricultural activities
- provide food coupons to the families who lost their source of income
- maintain corporate tax at 27% rather than having GST
- carry out all pre-election promises such as extended maternity leaves, minimum wages etc
- set out minimum wages
- allowing the set up of labour union and abolish those laws that discriminate labourers
- provide a fair and equitable working environment for female workers and enact anti-sexual discrimination legislation
- stopping privatisation of water supply and healthcare
- abolishing legislation that oppress labourers such as ISA, OSA etc
- implement need-base and not race base economic policies
- ...others like stopping FTA negotiations, clean and efficient government, respect the right of pioneers to remain where they have settled in the cities etc.
After 30 years or more of industrialization Malaysia is still very much lagging behind in labours’ right. For historical reasons which are now invalid, there were communists or communist supporters filling in the ranks hence unions were banned in Malaysia, with the exception of a few. The absence of labour unions has weakened the negotiation powers of factory workers.
In my opinion, a responsible administration elected by the people must believe that they have the duty of enabling its people to live with dignity and security. According to speeches I heard in the May Day Celebration in Seremban (http://www.parti-sosialis.org/?p=903), some workers get paid as low as RM15 a day while some aborigines who worked in restaurants did not get their EPF contribution despite working there for 15 years!
Najib’s economic initiatives do have some merits like liberalizing the 30% bumi equity requirement in certain sectors (which means other sectors need to exceed 30% to maintain the overall “equilibrium”?). Malaysian labour offices have been justifiably categorized as generally supportive of workers. However, more must be done to enable our work force to have food on their table, savings for their old age, the means to pay for their health care and their children’s education; as well as some means to enjoy the riches and beauty of our country.
Malaysia cannot continue with this low cost investment destination basis, as we cannot hope to compete with China on this aspect. Also, this economic model denies the citizens to lead a reasonable standard of living and enrich only the minority who have the means to invest and employ. As I written elsewhere, we need to create jobs that can pay better.