(1 May 2000)

KOTA KINABALU: The data and reasoning contained in the latest study on Minimum Wage and other manpower issues by the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) are impressive and deserve a proper analysis by the Government and employers, MP for Gaya Datuk Yong Teck Lee said on Sunday.

He said the document on the study, made with the assistance of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was the most comprehensive and a clear example of a union assisting the Government in policy formulation.

As such, he said, the Minister of Manpower and Resources should not have prematurely shot down the study. By doing so, the Government appeared to be not serious on the matter.

Yong, Member of Parliament for Gaya, said manpower issues should no longer be handled on a tripartite basis, involving only the Government, employers and employees, as though the rest of society was not concerned.

Yong said that during a recent discussion on the matter with the MTUC President Senator Zainal Rampak at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur, he had stressed that a Living Wage or Minimum Wage should be linked to the poverty income line.

"Living wage means that a person working full time should earn an income not less than the poverty income line.

"For KL, the MTUC has asked for RM1,200 per month. For Sabah, the figure is in the region of RM650. Other regions in the country could have different figures."

He said hard working people should be paid enough wages for the basic necessities of life for their families. This basic necessity, he explained, was the poverty income line. As the family was the basic unit of society, he said the society must ensure that each family could earn enough to live.

"Therefore, ideally, all new full-time jobs created should have an economic value more than the poverty income line, instead of low income and insecure jobs."

He said employers could be encouraged by way of various tax incentives and manpower training programmes.

In his view, when employers see the bigger picture and wider benefit to society and to themselves, then the Living Wage or Minimum Wage policy would have greater chances of success.

In all this, he added, the Human Resources Development Council had a crucial role in manpower management, technology acceleration, multi-skills training among workers and the creation of higher value jobs in the country.

Yong felt that employers, especially those involved in small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), should not be left to figure out for themselves "this complex maze of manpower issues".

"Left on their own, employers will inevitably opt for cheaper foreign workers," said Yong who was previously a Minister in the Chief Minister's Department in charge of economic affairs, a job that required him to deal with many manpower issues.

Speaking on foreign workers, he said Malaysia, particularly Sabah, was faced with several "critical challenges", including the high poverty rate, the threatening numbers of illegals, over dependence on foreign labour and the low quality of life for local workers.

He said artificially created low wages could result in such consequences as the presence of legal and illegal foreign workers, new jobs being given to foreigners, businesses not having the incentive to increase productivity and low productivity of workers equal to low income.

He said now employers wanted to be "appeased in not expelling their illegal labour" and that they were ignoring the fact that foreign workers became the shelter for illegals, a source of social problems, squatters, drugs and diseases.

According to him, foreign workers with their dependants number 500,000 in Sabah, excluding an estimated 100,000 illegals. At the national level, he said, the figure is 2,000,000 and employers "are still thirsting for more foreign workers".

Yong believed that the debate on Minimum Wage would go on for another one to two years. After which, he expected the Government could accept, in principle, a form of Minimum Wage.

"It could take another two to three years before its implementation, allowing the private sector to adjust, the Government to put in place tax incentives and control mechanism and the trade unions to prepare their workforce.

"Let the Labour Day in the Year 2000 be the start of this process," he added...


Datuk Yong Teck Lee
Member of Parliament for P150 Gaya / State Assemblyman for N13 Likas




























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