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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Minimum wage policy needed

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that locals should be paid attractive and reasonable wages to draw them into the labour market and thus reduce our dependence on foreign workers: “Be fair to local workers, employers told,” (The Star, March 26).

This statement echoes the sentiments expressed by the various NGOs, labour unions and almost any common man.

So, it looks like the Prime Minister is listening to the people.

But ensuring that reasonable wages are paid takes a lot of political will and, perhaps, only the law can achieve the desired result.

The rising cost and standard of living, coupled with the demands of present-day lifestyle, make it almost impossible for locals to sustain themselves and their families on wages that seem to crawl far behind the actual rise in the cost of living.

The reality of the situation was well illustrated in the article “All about survival” (The Star, March 23).

Almost always, it is argued that the easy availability of foreign workers causes an overall depression in wages.

Even those workers covered by collective agreements seem to lose their bargaining power for higher wages as their jobs can be easily outsourced or given to contractors who can hire foreign workers at cheaper rates.

It has been reported that even large companies pay local workers wages as low as RM400 a month. Therefore, it would be almost impossible to persuade the employers or rely on the response of the market forces to voluntarily increase the wages to match even the maid’s salary.

Local workers are certainly not going to be happy if the value of their jobs is always below a level that is perceived to be in a low range.

We often hear of comparisons being made with foreign maids who come with an assurance of RM750 for Filipinas and RM650 for Indonesians as their governments ensure that a minimum wage is paid to them.

Ironically, there is no minimum wage for our local maids or for most of the other workers in the country.

We are in a situation where we guarantee that foreign workers are given equal protection of the employment laws in accordance with international requirements.

However, the same principle of equal protection is not extended to cover the issue of minimum pay for all workers but is selectively applied to maids only.

The answer probably lies with a national minimum wage which would be the floor-level upon which to set decent and reasonable payment for workers.

KAY ARR,

Penang.

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