Side Views

Adjusting minimum wage for foreign workers is abhorrent — Praba Ganesan

February 01, 2013

FEB 1 — I’ve already been called an opportunistic politico by a friend today, so might as well go for broke.

The current manoeuvring to not let foreign workers get minimum wage is morally repugnant. It is wrong. It is monumentally wrong. There, I have said it.

If my pal is reading this, he might note that my position does not win me votes or even endear me to other Malaysians. It is what they call a “lose-lose” position. But sometimes, a man must surrender to a truth.

The government of Malaysia agreed to a minimum wage, and on January 1 it was implemented. A minimum wage explicitly tells us as humans that letting other humans earn less than that for any toil a month is wrong. The government on behalf of the people made that call.

Leave aside that the minimum wage agreed, RM900 for Peninsula and RM800 for Sabah and Sarawak, is lower than what those lobbying wanted, or what Selangor and Penang pay Malaysians in the state service — a minimum of RM1,500 each.

This lower figure, has been agreed by Malaysia, how can it now backtrack?

It cannot be, “Oh, now we think that will be too much for SMEs and factories highly reliant on cheap foreign labour. Let’s rethink.”

Cabinet decided that foreign levy would be paid by the labourers not the employers as it stands.

That’s RM100 to RM150, depending on whom you ask.

The human resource minister is leaning with the MCA president Chua Soi Lek to subtract the cost of transportation and housing from the worker. Where does this end?

Because the law now says the foreign labourer has to be paid RM900 and not the RM500 he gets at the petrol station or highway construction, somehow employers are entitled to find a way around it. By around it what they mean is to find other ways to take back what is given through the execution of law.

Think about it. These foreign workers did not ask for minimum wage, but should Malaysia deny them what it has decided is the minimum to live in Malaysia, because it can?

Prioritise your citizens, yes, of course. Perhaps the increase in wage coupled with additional costs of foreigners will entice firms to hire locals since the foreign-local wage gap drops. Then the jobs market opens up to Malaysians.

Perhaps companies can re-rationalise operational costs, automate more or re-engineer process to be cost efficient. Up the margin from sales by adding value in the product, go “Blue Ocean” it since everyone is yapping about blue seas. Labour is not the only portion of production costs, and productions costs are not the only part of operational costs. Perhaps the limitless government agencies should work with industry to find those answers.

In short any measure to benefit workers will cost employers, but to argue that fundamentally any new cost to employers is unfair is by definition daft.

I’m just one voice. But in this issue, numbers don’t count. Because the millions of foreigners in this country can’t speak out even if it appears that that a substantial number of them can vote.

I’ve worked abroad, and so have many Malaysians.

It’s wrong, it is just plain wrong. Trying to squeeze more out of the people already squeezed by employers and others.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.