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High crime, low wages - who gains?

Andrew Lo | Apr 17, 08 3:19pm

MTUC is very concerned about the huge number of house break-ins and other crimes against properties like motor theft, cable theft, and snatch thieves. The situation is getting very alarming with armed robberies now happening, not just break-ins. Apparently, no one is safe - including the VIPs with state-of-art alarm systems, security guards and heavily-fortified homes.

It is very easy to blame the police for all this but MTUC believes that we must have a hard look at the underlying cause of all these crimes. It is no coincidence that the crime rate has increased in tandem with the influx of foreign workers, both legal and illegal. It has also increased with the increase in the huge cost of living that is not matched by wages increase.

It is widely accepted that the underlying motivation for commercial crime is financial ‘reward’. Financial ‘reward’ is either driven by greed or economic necessity. MTUC believes that for a large number of commercial crimes, the main driver is economic necessity.

If people are to risk their lives to cut through ‘live’ electric cables to sell on for RM1 a kilo, than it is reasonable to argue that it is economic necessity that drove them to resort to such crime, just like stealing a mobile phone to sell on at RM30 or a motor bike at RM300.

The long-term solution is to ensure that Malaysians have decent jobs with reasonable pay. And that there are no more foreign workers. We note that the government now wants to do away with foreign workers as their numbers both legal and illegal have reached three million.

The government must realise that employers employ foreign workers not because Malaysians shun such jobs, but because employers through their economic might and close links with the government have managed to (in the dubious excuse of having to be competitive) suppress wages.

As a result, locals either leave Sarawak for jobs else where (or turn to crime) hence opening the door for RM12 a day (according to the Sarawak Timber Association) foreign workers.

A case in point is when the timber industry managed to convince the BN government to grant exemption to them so that basic protections as provided under the amended labour laws is denied to workers in non-urban (meaning almost all areas) in Sarawak.

Other examples of employers’ and government actions:

• Opposition to minimum wages.
• Opposition to a national retrenchment scheme.
• Making it extremely difficult for trade unions to operate and obtain recognition and prohibiting executives from joining unions.
• Imposing 24 months cap on back wages for workers who are dismissed without just cause of excuse.
• Opposition to increasing the retirement age (which will reduce reliance on foreign workers).

All these will ultimately result in the distortion of workers’ bargaining power which is now skewed heavily in favour of employers to ultimately drive down wages and kept profits up.

Now every Malaysian is paying the price in terms of the high crime rate. Of course, the rich billionaires will be protected in their heavily-fortified mansions or holiday homes overseas.

We therefore urge the government to be serious and change our policy of being a low-wage country and restructure employment laws to create decent and productive jobs. There is no point to spend billions to produce graduates when they earn less than RM1,000 when they enter the job market.

An immediate benefit to the country is that higher wages will lead to higher purchasing power which in turn will lead to increase domestic demand. MTUC therefore agrees with Senator Amirsham that the government plans to implement increase in wages through productivity improvement and restructuring employment rules themselves.

However, we must remember that employers will not invest in productivity improvement simply because it will be cheaper for them to continue to pay RM12 a day for foreign labour rather than invest in modern equipment, production processes and better human resources management. It must be noted that spending on Research and Development by the private sector in Malaysia is extremely low.

The Malaysian Employers Federation’s view on productivity improvement is simplistic - the more a worker produces, the more he is paid. Question is, how do you expect a rubber taper to produce more if he still uses the same tool his grandfather used?

Countries with the highest workers’ productivity and the world’s most productive nations are in Europe - are all high wage countries with a minimum wage policy in place and are heavily unionised. Even Singapore has a higher productivity than us, despite higher wages.

Just compare Changi airport in Singapore where Singaporeans in their late fifties and early sixties are efficiently maintaining the airport, while KLIA is flooded with Bangladeshis.

We expect all employers to jump on us for our views as they only care about their member companies’ profits. We urge all loyal Malaysians to judge for themselves whether or not our views have more than a ring of truth to it. Our views may be difficult to swallow for employers but are hard facts nonetheless.

The writer is secretary, MTUC Sarawak.

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