Malaysia is potentially on the cusp of something revolutionary, where there is a real chance that a party other than Barisan Nasional (BN) would be elected to rule the country.
All indications are that BN knows this and is desperate to cling on to power.
The various financial fiascos and the mismanagement of the country at many levels have made the people crave for changes.
High up on the list of the people who have had to pay the price for incompetence is the common worker.
Over the years, the policies of the government have both directly and indirectly impacted negatively on workers, but the government doesn’t seem to have bothered much. When I refer to workers, I mean both Malaysians and foreign workers.
As much as it is said that it is the Elections Commission that set the date for the elections, it is apparent that it is in line with the aspirations of BN, given the comments made by senior members of the party.
Malaysians have been inconvenienced and in many cases deprived of the chance to exercise their constitutional right.
With balloting set for a Wednesday, many Malaysian workers would just not be able to make it to vote. What greater disrespect and disregard to Malaysians can there be than denying its citizenry a proper and reasonable opportunity to cast their votes in a general election?
It’s bread-and-butter issues
Labour Day was celebrated on May 1. Instead of honoring the role of workers, BN chose to level insults against workers instead.
BN chairman Najib Razak said he would “gift” workers if BN was elected to rule again. Among them would be to increase the minimum monthly wage, currently set at RM1,000 for those in Peninsular Malaysia and RM920 for those in East Malaysia.
BN has already stated that it intends to increase the minimum wage level to RM1500 per month over a five-year period — which is rather pathetic.
The cost of living in Malaysia has increased over the past decade or so, but wages have not risen in proportion.
The introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) has made it more difficult than ever for the common Malaysian worker to make ends meet.
How those from the administration can deny this fact is truly baffling and a testament to the total disregard they have for the common man.
Bank Negara, in a recent report, stated that the “living wage” of a single person living and working in Kuala Lumpur should be RM2,700 per month.
A living wage is a wage level where people can meaningfully participate in society, it said. The fact that there is such a disparity between the minimum wage and the living wage level speaks to the failed economic and social policies of the government.
Having helmed the country, Najib should be speaking of what he has done for workers as opposed to what he would be doing. His “gifts” to workers seem inadequate.
The common people, the 99%, have only seen wealth and income disparity increase. It is undeniable that this is a global problem but the Malaysian government has done little in terms of its policies to deal with this issue from a structural standpoint.
Today, wage levels are being continually depressed due to the failed policies of the government.
Labour has been robbed of its dignity
Apart from the matter of wages, workers in the country have been robbed of proper trade union representation and access to justice.
The role of trade unions has been diminished due to the anti-union policies of the government. Trade unions have found it increasingly difficult to recruit members and represent workers.
There are stumbling blocks, and the entire system is stacked against workers and trade unions. For a dismissed worker to have his day in court may take years.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is potentially a powerful organisation. It has, however, over the years, been losing its influence.
Government interference and policies have been among the reasons that have contributed to this.
The BN government has always worked to have those who support its policies to helm the organisation so that they will not voice out against the government.
Internecine feuding, especially when a true trade union activist is elected to a position of influence within the MTUC, has rendered the organisation ineffective.
It is incomprehensible how some trade union leaders have lined up to be seen with and to curry favour with the BN government.
Musa Hitam, in his memoir “Frankly Speaking”, had stated how he won a parliamentary seat with the support of MTUC. Today, no political party in the real sense would work to seek the support of MTUC.
Workers must take a stand
The alternative to BN in the coming election, Pakatan Harapan (PH), provides hope. Malaysia needs a change and the workers need people within the government or in Parliament who can address its needs and challenges.
PH MPs such as Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid, Charles Santiago and M Kulasegaran have over time proven their mettle in this sense.
The workers in Malaysia have for far too long been relegated to irrelevance. It is time for a new government to restore the lost dignity of Malaysian workers.
Callistus Antony D’Angelus is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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