KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has criticised a statement by a senior minister for the business community to accelerate automation in their operations and reduce workforce to mitigate effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Describing the call as untimely and ill-conceived, the union said International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali should instead offer solutions to help workers in Malaysia at risk of losing or already lost jobs or suffering pay cuts due to irresponsible employers taking advantage of the crisis.
MTUC secretary-general J Solomon said with such a call, Azmin has chosen to prod employers into further reducing their workers, who are already reeling from the ongoing crisis.
"It is beyond MTUC's comprehension why Azmin would want to inflict more woes on helpless workers, especially at a time when the government should be doing its best to encourage employers not to neglect workers' welfare in facing the current economic challenges.
"Getting workers back to their jobs in a safe and secure environment gradually should be the top priority for Azmin, not making uncaring statements on the need for employers to automate.
"By urging employers to ramp up automation without a sound plan for affected workers, Azmin risks worsening Malaysia's unemployment problem, both in the short and long term," he said in a statement today.
He said Azmin's statement was a direct contradiction to the Prime Minister's (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) initiative in calling for more inclusive measures where no one would be left behind.
"With Azmin's ill-conceived thought, will he take responsibility to ensure the future of displaced workers and their families as they will be the ones directly hit," he asked.
Yesterday, Azmin in a statement said companies highly dependent on labour need to focus more on automation and technology.
The move, Azmin said, was to reduce human contact in business premises.
Solomon said with a call for more automation, Azmin has only exposed his pro-employer and capitalist traits apart from making light of Putrajaya's assurances that it would look after the welfare of workers in good and bad times.
"As a minister, Azmin must be more responsible with his statements especially in this extremely difficult time for workers because his actions can be construed as provoking millions of workers which could result in a very agitated society."
He said Azmin seemed to have offered automation as the golden wand for the business community to revive their fortunes in what he calls as the new normal environment of Covid-19.
"However, in doing so, he failed to reveal any rescue plan for the record number of jobless workers or those who will be laid off if employers take up the minister's call for automation.
"Azmin should know that whatever the merits of automation may hold, it is not the answer to the current problems affecting the country with record unemployment."
Solomon said MTUC had already seen how thousands of Malaysian workers in the manufacturing and service industries were suffering after losing their jobs through the voluntary separation scheme (VSS) and retrenchment exercises under the guise of e-banking and digitalisation.
He said Azmin must remind himself that workers were the backbone of this country's economy.
"Their contributions have enabled the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to chalk handsome profits from its investments locally and abroad, which in turn, profited the government time and again over the years.
"By calling for Malaysia's work force to be scaled down in lieu of more automation, Azmin must realise that robots cannot contribute as workers do to the EPF nor does Artificial Intelligence pay any taxes."
Solomon said while MTUC does not reject automation and has consistently urged for automation as a way to lessen reliance on migrant workers, automation should not be a means to lay off local workers.
"On countless occasions, we have urged the government to focus on retraining and upskilling local workers so they can enjoy better wages and brighter prospects, only to fall on deaf ears due to the ever availability of cheap migrant labour.
"As a result, we have lagged far behind many Asian countries such as Singapore.Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong because of our over-reliance on cheap migrant labour, inadequate focus on training, low technology absorption, and over emphasis on keeping wages low."
Source : https://www.nst.com.my/…/mtuc-slams-senior-ministers-call-a…