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KUCHING: Malaysia Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak is concerned with the rising cost of living this year, which it says is mainly caused by the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the weakening ringgit.
MTUC Sarawak secretary Andrew Lo said in a press statement yesterday that the problem was further exacerbated when wages have not risen in tandem, leading to a drop in the standard of living.
“Such a situation will lead to a higher income disparity and ultimately social unrest,” he opined.
“The ordinary Malaysian’s ability to cope with rising prices is hamstrung. While we cannot wholly blame the government, it must be acknowledged that the government’s economic and labour policy for the past 50 years has led us down this road.
Lo described the government’s response as “haphazard”.
“The Deputy Prime Minister’s (DPM) announcement that he will chair a newly formed committee to tackle rising prices is an example. The committee will comprise of six ministries.
“However, the Human Resources Ministry is not mentioned. How can we tackle rising prices (which is inevitable in any economy), without tackling low wages amid low income?” he questioned.
He added that the country’s labour productivity has also increased much higher than wages have in the past decade.
“With wages at only 32 per cent of GDP, there is no question that employers can definitely afford to increase wages. Yet the government’s Minimum Wage Policy is one step forward and two steps back, evidenced by the one and a half year delay of the Minimum Wage review.
“The presence of at least four million (some say six million foreign workers – half of our total local workforce) contributes to the malaise. Without so many cheap foreign workers, wages would have gone up way higher and would have helped to absolve the increase in prices,” he continued.
Worse, whatever foreign workers earn is sent back to their home country, stifling local demand and small businesses.
“The only people who gain are the connected agents and corrupt immigration officers. Let us not forget that the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of the ex-Director General of Immigration for accepting bribes to approve permits for foreign workers.
Lo noted that the DPM finally acknowledged the lopsided privatisation contracts previously signed by the government.
“Let MTUC remind that is it the same Barisan government that signed these contracts. In Sarawak, the state government has abolished tolls, but at what cost to tax payers? The abolishment is good news, but please don’t turn it into an election and political trump card. Tolls should have never been imposed in the first place,” he said.
“Our brilliant deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Minister tells us to take more than one job and workers to start businesses.
“He also tells us to wake up early to avoid paying tolls. Little does he realise that unless our jobs earn as much as his, we still find it difficult to cope even if we have three jobs at the minimum wage of just RM800 a month.
“We cannot depend on proper control by enforcement officers. This only increases the opportunities for corruption,” he added.
MTUC is calling for a systematic development of trade unions to boost wages and productivity and to develop the consumer movement so that consumers can effectively force businesses to compete.
Source: BORNEO POST online
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