MP SPEAKS | Protecting workers’ rights for a stronger economic recovery

MP SPEAKS | On this International Workers Day or more commonly known as Labor Day in Malaysia, I wish all Malaysian workers Happy Labor Day (Selamat Menyambut Hari Buruh).

The last two years have been hard and difficult for workers. At the height of uncertainty during the first Covid-19 lockdown, unemployment peaked at 5.3% in May 2020, when 800,000 workers were out of work.

The self-employed, hawkers and small traders and those in the tourism and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit. On the other hand, healthcare workers have been under immense pressure as many have suffered physical and emotional stress on the frontlines of the pandemic.

More than ever, the pandemic has highlighted the pressing need for greater social protection for workers. For example, the Employment Insurance (EAS) system, which temporarily provides unemployment income to workers who have lost their jobs, had just 6.9 million contributors in April 2022.

At least six million workers are yet to participate in the EIS administered by the Social Security Organization (Socso). We need to invest more effort in extending this social protection to Malaysian workers, including those who do not have formal employment contracts, such as VTC drivers and other gig workers.

When strong political will backed by bipartisan cooperation is needed to provide better social protection for Malaysian workers, DAP stands ready to work with all parties who share the same goal.

Workers need protection

ETH withdrawals

The past two years have also seen unprecedented steps in allowing four withdrawals for Employees Provident Fund (EPF) members before retirement age.

After EPF’s third withdrawal in 2021, EPF Director General Tunku Alizakri Alias ​​revealed that 30% of EPF’s 1.6 million members may have used up almost all of their retirement savings in Account 1 (with only a minimum balance of RM100) and 60% or three million members will have exhausted all their savings in Account 2.

The fourth EPF withdrawal this year will see more members, many in the M40 category, deplete their retirement savings at an unprecedented rate. It will be decades before depleted retirement savings recover. More creative and long-term policies are needed to help workers rebuild their EPF retirement savings, especially among B40 workers.

Over the past two years, we have fought hard to keep as many workers as possible by making sacrifices and compromises. DAP and Pakatan Harapan have criticized the inadequacy of the wage subsidy of RM600 per month announced by the administration of former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during the first lockdown in March 2020.

To protect jobs, we have stood firm and joined with unions and advocacy groups to call for tougher measures. We succeeded when the government increased the wage subsidy to RM1,200 per month per worker for companies with 75 or fewer workers.

In 2021, we have requested additional funding and assistance of RM45 billion, especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by the pandemic, under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the administration Ismail Sabri and Pakatan Harapan.

Many people cannot afford to retire

The historic memorandum of understanding signed on September 13, 2021 has ensured the country’s political and economic stability, which is essential to manage the Covid-19 crisis. Without the temporary political ceasefire, the endless uproar would have derailed economic recovery and the livelihoods of a majority of working people.

Workers’ rights

The role of trade unions in defending workers’ rights is of the utmost importance in any country. We are grateful for the hard work that many trade unions in Malaysia have done over the years to ensure that the voice of workers is heard loud and clear.

At the same time, we are also concerned that the level of unionization among Malaysian workers is only 6%, a very low figure (excluding civil servants).

With the shift towards more jobs in the service sector, in the gig economy and in small businesses, I urge our unions to be more flexible and creative in their approach to attracting members and reaching out to young people. generation.

Many are heading into the gig economy

The future of the workforce in Malaysia will be most promising if the tripartite partnership between trade unions, employers and government operates in a transparent manner.

With a strong union infrastructure and capacity, employers and government can work hand-in-hand with union members and workers to introduce policies that can increase worker well-being, wages and productivity for all. levels.

For example, following the increase in the minimum wage to RM1,500 in effect today, other labor market reforms and improvements in government policy should also take place so that employers and employees can benefit together from the economic recovery.

Increase wages

Rather than fearing the process of automation, Industry 4.0 measures should benefit employees and trade unions as they will increase efficiency and provide the basis for raising wages for existing workers.

Unions should also welcome training programs and the piloting of productivity-related wages in certain industries and sectors as part of a longer-term vision to raise wages and the general standard of living of workers in Malaysia. .

The recruitment process for foreign workers should also be made more transparent so that the rights of these workers are protected even before they arrive in Malaysia.

Workers’ rights must be protected

While here, they should be provided with accommodation that complies with Malaysian laws, including Law 446, which was fully strengthened following the July 2019 amendment by Pakatan Harapan.

Recently, on March 21, Malaysia ratified the International Labor Organization Protocol 2014 (ILO P29) which obligated the government to institute reforms and demonstrate progress in preventing, criminalizing and prosecuting labor activities strength.

Progressive labor policies are the hallmark of a truly developed nation that Malaysia should strive to be. I would like to highlight the recurring cases of vulnerable young Malaysians being lured into criminal syndicates through targeted online advertising to register as workers in online scams under forced labor conditions.

Reports say thousands of workers, many of them Malaysians, are forced to work in a ‘lawless’ border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar for online gambling and scam syndicates.

I call on the government to use the full force of the law against perpetrators of forced labor and fraudulent online advertisements targeting young workers seeking employment. To prevent more workers from falling prey to these criminals, we need the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Royal Malaysian Police and other law enforcement agencies to step in, work with Facebook and Google to eradicate the source and indict the perpetrators in court.

Work with authorities in our neighboring countries to arrest criminals and bring Malaysian workers back to safety with their families.

The rights of workers, Malaysian and non-Malaysian, inside and outside Malaysia must be protected by our national laws, by our obligations and the obligations of our trading partners through the free trade agreements in which we participate. and by our international obligations.

There is a long way to go in the fight for higher wages, better jobs and better protection for workers in Malaysia. Let’s join forces and embark on this journey together.

Have a relaxing Labor Day!

ANTHONY LOKE SIEW FOOK is Secretary General of the DAP and MP for Seremban.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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