MALAYSIANS celebrate Workers Day today. We are fortunate to work, play, study and live peacefully.
The stimulus for the creation of Workers Day was George Pullman's greed. In 1880, he founded Pullman Railroad Cars in Illinois, the United States. He ran it like a feudal system. Everyone in town worked for his company, so their pay cheques were drawn from his bank. They shopped in his stores and their housing was provided by Pullman, for which they paid rent.
In 1893, the company got into financial problems. Orders for railroad cars dropped. He laid off hundreds of workers, who went on strike, demanding higher pay and lower rent. This became a national issue, resulting in a boycott with riots, pillaging and burning of cars. Even non-union workers joined in the protest.
The then president Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 troops to stop the carnage. Two men in Kensington, Illinois, were killed when the troops shot at the protesting mob.
Cleveland's action made many people upset. To help him get re-elected, a legislation to introduce Workers Day was quickly passed by Congress, and was signed by Cleveland just six days after he sent the troops to stop the strike.
Though the Workers Day was born out of greed, in Malaysia, we are fortunate to have amicable relationships between employees, employers, unions as well as the public and private sectors.
Malaysia has carefully embedded private and public sector cooperation into its system, thus, enabling a smooth, cordial and cohesive communication between them.
Apart from a major showdown between the airline union and the government in 1978, we never had much labour unrest.
To ensure a greater future, we need to address the low-wage issue. I am certain the minimum wage policy announced by the prime minister yesterday will resolve this long-standing issue.
We should also regulate the inflow of foreign workers and reduce job insecurity among Malaysians. We must increase labour flexibility as well as the bargaining power of workers, especially the unskilled and low-skilled workforce.
We should concentrate on building a trained and productive workforce to help the country boost its industrial sector.
As a developed nation in 2020, Malaysia should bring about greater changes by making every employee an asset to the development of the nation.
Whether we are in agriculture, engineering, service, tourism, transportation, education, electronics, oil and gas, public or private sector, we must excel in what we do and ensure that Malaysia prospers.
We must contribute to the economy and people. Let us be the role model for new economies like Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam or the Eastern European bloc.
A satisfied employee will be a big boost to his family, community and nation.