KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has urged the government today to not sweep the truth under the carpet with regards to the United Nations’ (UN) findings on poverty in the country.
Its secretary-general J. Solomon said the government ought to take the remarks by UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston seriously, as the national poverty line of RM980 per month is ridiculous, especially for urban areas.
“Poverty is uniquely connected to different causes, which could result in dire consequences if the government does not address it truthfully,” he said in a statement.
Alston had said on Friday that official figures on poverty were vastly inaccurate and did not reflect realities on the ground.
Solomon added that Alson’s findings is consistent with MTUC’s stand all this while that the government is way off tangent, and has not been the real factors on the ground to assess actual poverty
“If the difference is one per cent or two per cent from 0.4 per cent of the Government Poverty Line rate, then their stand is acceptable.
“But the UN’s findings are 15 per cent to 20 per cent. That means at least around five million workers are earning below the poverty line. Based on the UN Report, Malaysians are blatantly being cheated,” he said.
He also welcomed Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assurance that the government would relook into the poverty rate, and recommended that it study the effect of low wages in the country, as it is directly tied to poverty rates.
”The current minimum wage of RM1,100 per month could have been a major contributor to the UN’s findings, as it is not a livable wage under the prevailing living conditions.
“To address the situation, the minimum wage has to be raised substantially. The government should stop giving excuses that it will cause inflation by doing so,” Solomon said, adding this line of argument often cited by the employers is “flawed and baseless”.
The findings also indicate Malaysia’s policies as being unrealistic, resulting in the unfair distribution of income and wealth in the country.
“It is embarrassing that erroneous rates are used to mislead the world and Malaysians, causing gross injustice and suffering to workers as they are denied an equitable share of the nation’s wealth.
“This requires an urgent review as certain communities were being obviously left out because of these lopsided policies,” he said.
Solomon also took Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali to task, saying he is disconnected with the real situation on the ground in standing by the government’s figure of a 0.4 per cent poverty rate.
“As admitted by the minister, the handbook used was the one issued in 2011 and it is not credible.
“The last seven years saw a steep rise in the cost of living in the country while wages stood still for most. Azmin also admits that 12 per cent of the operating national budget was for subsidies and social support,” he said.
A clear indicator that wages are not sufficient to meet the rise in prices in every aspect of peoples’ lives, Solomon said Azmin can no longer be ignorant of the fact that a substantial population of Malaysians are living on borrowed income for their basic needs.
“Being in denial will only see Malaysia continuously postponing its hope of becoming a developed nation at the targeted year,” he said, adding that the government also has the opportunity to make amends by increasing the minimum wage to a living wage in the 2020 budget.
Solomon also sounded a warning by saying that times have changed and if the politicians continuously ignore the voice of the working class, this could result in the possible birth of a new Labour Party in Malaysian politics.
“This may eventually be the ultimate answer to serve the interest of the 15 million workers whose families form the remaining population of Malaysia.
“As the workers cannot continue to suffer under legislators who even after the change of government remain blind and snobbish towards worker’s genuine sufferings,” he said.