“Labour Day: Much needs to be done to uplift workers’ rights”

IT is International Day of the Worker come tomorrow and I am wrecking my head trying to think of what to celebrate.

Maybe the minimum wage of RM1,500, which came through after years of fighting and takes effect tomorrow?

Admittedly the minimum wage, although welcomed, is hardly enough to cover the cost of living of a single person, what more a family of four?

Bank Negara Malaysia and Khazanah Nasional Bhd have pointed out that living wage for a family of four should be about RM6,000 a month but we are far from reaching this number for the majority of workers in the country.

In reality, wage stagnation over the last two decades has reduced quality and standard of living of workers. Their vulnerability has increased given the COVID-19 related loss of jobs and reduction in wages since 2020. Add the increase in food prices to this mess and we have a huge combustion.

Clearly, an absence of state intervention in establishing a robust social protection system has left workers in a limbo.

So, they end up withdrawing money from their retirement scheme, Employees Provident Fund. This further depletes the savings of the already financially vulnerable low-income households and worsening the state of old-age poverty.

It is therefore time for the Government to aim for the implementation of living wages and rethink social protection with a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to cover these vulnerable groups in the long run.

Social protection programme can be a powerful instrument to not only lift families and children out of poverty but also promote maternal and child nutrition.

May Day started as a general strike for an eight-hour workday. The protest turned deadly with hundreds of labour leaders being executed by hanging but their fight continued.

Workers remain steadfast, persistent and courageous throughout centuries. So, let us celebrate that and also continue lobbying the Government for their rights, for without them much of our development would not have been possible.

Happy International Workers Day and in solidarity, always. – April 30, 2022


Charles Santiago is the MP for Klang.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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