KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 ― Ten Malaysian trade unions today decried the minimum wage increase to RM1,050 monthly as a “meaningless” exercise.
According to the unions of workers in the electronic, nursing, timber, forestry, and construction industries, the increase of the minimum wage by RM50 in the peninsula failed to allow workers to live a life of dignity.
National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers secretary-general N. Gopal Kishnam said Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) election manifesto had given many workers hope that a RM1,500 minimum wage might be a reality soon.
“Considering the already stagnant state of working class wages against the rising costs of living, RM50 a month is utterly meaningless,” he said.
Earlier this year Bank Negara outlined that the estimated cost of living for a single worker in Kuala Lumpur was RM2,700 a month, while it was RM6,500 monthly for a couple with two children.
“The gulf between what Bank Negara has said is needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living and the proposed new minimum wage of RM 1,500 defies comprehension,” Kishnam said.
The unions agreed that in 2019, the minimum wage increase should have been set at RM1,500 (including standardisation across Sabah and Sarawak), but said there must be a tangible pathway to lift the minimum wage to the living wage level of RM2,700 within five years.
Malayan Nurses Union president Nor Hayati Binti Abd Rashid said that low wages have created deep impacts across the economy, since stagnant wages lead to stagnant consumption.
“The World Bank has said that Malaysia will achieve high-income status by 2020, but our deeply unequal distribution of wealth means that many too many workers are being left behind,” said Rashid.
“Lifting the wages of the lowest paid workers in the country does more to guarantee that capital will be pumped back into the economy, because low paid workers spend their money, unlike wealthy executives.”
Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia Nor Azlan Yaacob general secretary said that the common conception that the minimum wage is only for workers that are starting out is simply not true.
“In our experience, without a union onsite in a position to collectively bargain, it is very rare for employers to take the initiative to lift wages by themselves”, said Yaacob.
“Our industries ― wood processing, pulp and paper and furniture ― are key export industries that generate a lot of revenue, and yet workers are often paid at or just above the minimum.
“Workers have little to be happy about in this proposed wage revision.”
The 10 unions who signed the statement included Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) Union and University Malaya General Staff Union.
The PH government had on Wednesday announced that the minimum wage for the private sector will be raised to RM1,050 across the board for peninsular Malaysia (currently RM1,000) and Sabah and Sarawak that are both at RM920, effective January 1, 2019.