Side Views

Minimum wage: A prerequisite for balanced development — Callistus Antony D’Angelus

March 31, 2012

MARCH 31 — The institution of a minimum wage in Malaysia has been debated for decades. The Barisan Nasional government, which has ruled the country since independence from the British, has always take the political middle ground of keeping this in abeyance without taking a firm position.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), the umbrella body of trade unions in the country, has constantly pushed the case for a minimum wage despite being stonewalled time and again.

The government had announced recently that it will introduce a minimum wage legislation in the country, and as expected it has again drawn the ire of employers and some politicians. The resolve of the government in delivering a decent living standard for workers in the country is being severely tested, with there being some potentially severe political and economic repercussions.

The argument against a minimum wage is one which is premised on cost, with the fear factor being that employers who cannot afford these wages will shut down and there will be unemployment. This is a flawed and overly simplified argument, which does not take into consideration the economic direction and the position of workers in the country.

A minimum wage is a wage which will take care of the basic necessities of life. It is not a wage which is set at a level that caters for affording luxuries. If a business operates at a level, where in order to stay competitive it needs to pay wages which are below the minimum wage threshold, then such a business does not deserve to be in business. It also means that the country has not positioned itself appropriately along the global economic value chain.

Reliance on foreign workers, employed on unfair and inhumane conditions, has contributed to the depression of wages in the country and the diminishing standard of living.

Workers cannot be expected to bear the brunt of an uncompetitive business or economy.

The primary obligation of an economy has to be to serve the interest of the majority of the population, and not to create a class of the “super-rich”. The continued denial of a minimum wage for the Malaysian people is an atrocity and an insult to workers in the country.

There will undeniably be adjustments in the immediate term which need to be addressed where a minimum wage mechanism is introduced, and the country will have to go through this change process in order reposition itself economically.

There should be no further hesitation by the government to pass a minimum wage legislation which will befit the efforts and contribution of the common man towards the nation’s economic prosperity and progress.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.