MTUC notes with interest the budget proposals addressing some salient concerns of the B40 group although the minimum wage increase is not up to its expectation of RM1,800. In view of the many relief measures granted to the B40 together with the increase in minimum wage to RM1,100, this gives some measure of relief to the concerns raised by the Gabungan Bantah 1050.
Accordingly, taking into account the overall relief measures granted to low-end society, especially the B40, MTUC welcomes the government’s commitment to assisting the needy sector despite the burden of the national debt which has risen to RM1 trillion as announced by the Pakatan Harapan government.
It is encouraging that the government has proposed a one-off grant of RM1,000, childcare subsidy of RM120 per child up to four children and unlimited monthly travel pass of RM100 for public transport. It is also encouraging that the Penang and Singapore toll for motorcycles will be abolished, which will cushion the rising cost of living.
MTUC is happy that after many years, the budget has realistically set aside allocations to relieve the trying conditions of the B40, which is no doubt a step forward in assisting the vulnerable section given the extremely trying economic conditions.
It is encouraging to note that the government has given reasonable consideration to the needs and heard the voices of the poor workers. In this respect, it needs to be placed on record that the Gabungan Bantah 1050 coalition did in fact play a vital role in focusing the attention of the government regarding the concerns of B40. It is also encouraging to note that the minimum wage has been increased to RM1,100. Accordingly, MTUC takes pride in expressing its gratitude to all organisations of the Bantah Coalition 1050 and unions, which did in fact make it possible for the low-end society to get reliefs after a lengthy interval. MTUC also wishes to place on record its sincere appreciation for the government for seriously lending a ear to the voice of Bantah 1050 coalition group.
We are hopeful that the government will seriously consider a meaningful minimum wage increase at the next review in order to ensure a decent living.
However, we note that the M40’s concerns have not been adequately addressed in this budget, a crucial point given the fact that Malaysia has reached the middle-income trap. In that context, the M40 category too needs to be taken care of to ensure reasonable living standards. Given the overall pattern of the 2019 budget proposals, we believe that the government will be committed to addressing the concerns of society in a broader sense in the long run. In that context, if the economy recovers it is always possible to offer better living conditions to the B40 and M40 groups, even before the next budget review.
It needs to be emphasised that in the economic, cultural and social development of a country, all stakeholders need to play an equal or a reasonable role instead of solely depending on the government to subsidise everything and anything.
Therefore, it is time for the MEF to advise its members to seriously consider a change in mindset instead of simply threatening the government with litigation over the increase in minimum wage which is a sincere effort towards achieving equitable wealth sharing among Malaysians.
What right do employers have to sue the government over the budget proposals? If at all the government is to be sued, the unions could have done so due to the loss of enhanced minimum wage due to the two-year delay in implementing the review. However, it needs to be impressed upon the MEF that the unions were responsible enough not to resort to such low levels given the complexities faced by the new government due to the previous government’s management of the country.
The employers have been pampered over a long period of 61 years, enabling unjust enrichment and accumulation of huge wealth among a few and creating huge income and wealth disparity. The MEF’s claim that the decision to further increase the minimum wage will impact the cost of doing business and is unfair to employers has no justification. It is simply comical.
It is time that the employers act more responsibly in supporting the government in its efforts to regularise the equitable development concept.
Accordingly, employers should seriously consider implementing a cost of living allowance of RM300 to cushion the rising cost of living due to the prevailing conditions of the government’s financial position until such time that the economy improves. This will eventually boost business as well. The minimum wage announced by the government does not necessarily mean that wages should be restricted to RM1,100. It is the minimum, and any extension beyond that is the onus of the employers. Therefore, the employers also need to be responsible enough to play their role in narrowing the ever-increasing income inequality in Malaysia.
We are at a loss as to the basis on which the MEF claims that it was not consulted in the announcement of the RM1,100 minimum wage as it made no comments whatsoever when RM1,050 was announced, and when MTUC together with other Bantah 1050 coalition members protested against it. The RM1,050 minimum wage was in fact their proposal while MTUC proposed RM1,800.
The irony is that when the MEF’s proposal for RM1,050 was initially announced by the government, it was very well received by them and they kept mum. But the government making a further upward revision of RM50 becomes unlawful to them. We cannot comprehend MEF’s double standards attitude, which shows their hypocrisy in handling their affairs. In fact, the technical committee of the NWCC quoted more than RM1,050 as the minimum wage.
The MEF’s concern about higher remittance of the ringgit to the source countries of foreign workers is ridiculous. If the employers are seriously concerned about the ringgit outflow, they should without delay curtail the intake of foreign workers and accommodate local workers in their place with living wage structures. Moreover, the employers will not be subject to any levy payments or other hardships.
We are extremely happy that the government has, in a more pragmatic and progressive move to reduce the income and wealth distribution disparity, compelled public-listed companies to publish the wage ratios in their companies. It is a timely move in the context of the ever-increasing income inequality, which will eventually expose the few in the top management who share the booty among themselves without any consideration for the large majority of workers, causing huge income inequality.
J Solomon is secretary-general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.