Pakatan claims wage council compromised by politics

By Clara Chooi, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 – Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs questioned today the involvement of the World Bank in drafting the country’s minimum wage policy and asked if the government’s National Wage Consultation Council had been “compromised” by politics.

In a joint press statement today, the MPs demanded an explanation from Putrajaya over the international bank’s role as moderator during the just-concluded laboratory held in Putrajaya.

“What is the relationship and mandate given by the Barisan Nasional government to the World Bank with regards to the minimum wage issue?

“And how much of the rakyat’s money was spent to acquire the participation of the World Bank?” they wrote in the statement.

The MPs also demanded the government admit that as the council had been “compromised, it would fail to act in the best interest of lower income earners.

“Is this national minimum wage-setting body truly independent, representative and authoritative, or is it subject to political interference by the current federal government?” they said.

The statement was signed by PKR’s Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid (Kuala Langat), Chua Tian Chang (Batu), Nurul Izzah Anwar (Lembah Pantai), DAP’s M. Kulasegaran (Ipoh Barat), Liew Chin Tong (Bukit Bendera) and PAS’s Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Parit Buntar).

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam said on Monday that the council will consider a proposal for a single minimum wage for employees in the peninsula and another for east Malaysia.

Subramaniam added that the proposal was mooted from the minimum wage laboratory that saw the participation of employers, trade unions, NGOs, World Bank representatives, government agencies, and Senate and Parliament members.

He also said local and foreign workers would be paid equally under the minimum wage policy.

The PR MPs said the government needed to establish a fully independent commission that would focus on studying the best mechanism to introduce a fair minimum wage system for various sectors.

All data to construct such a system, they added, should be made available to the council to enable it to conduct its affairs and later allow its proceedings to be viewed by the public.

The MPs also said the minimum wage level should not be based on sectoral modifications and should be gradually implemented to reduce the impact on the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that might be affected by the move.

“A minimum wage policy for all government-linked companies, particularly for the lowest rung staff such as estate workers should be implemented with immediate effect to indicate BN’s serious political will in the matter,” they added.

The MPs also questioned if the Najib Administration was deliberately keeping important data away from the public, like the National Employment Returns, Household Income, Household Expenditure and Labour Force surveys.

“If so, why? Should not such data be made wholly available for impartial analysis and review by the wage-setting body?” they said.

They noted that the government needed to be serious and unwavering in its bid to address minimum wage concerns in Malaysia, pointing out that in the past decade, the average wage increment in the country had been merely 2.6 per cent, despite the international standard of 3.2 per cent.

“PR, as promised in its Buku Jingga, hereby reiterates its unwavering commitment to introducing a comprehensive, fair and just minimum wage for all Malaysians,” they concluded.

Following Subramaniam’s announcement on Monday, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) warned that imposing a national minimum wage will cause unemployment as businesses might fail to absorb the additional labour costs.

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan also pointed out that implementing a single minimum wage across regions was unrealistic, as different costs of living were not taken into account.

“I’m sure if we impose that kind of thing, there are many people who’ll say ‘I can’t afford to employ you anymore’,” Shamsuddin told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

“If an employer is not able to pay because profit margins are very low, he may decide not to do business anymore. If they (workers) don’t have any employment anymore, are we protecting them?” he asked.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak aims to increase Malaysia’s gross national income to RM1.7 trillion by 2020 from RM660 billion for 2010.