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The response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the inequality that exists between employers and employees. – NSTP file pic, for illustration purposes only
The response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the inequality that exists between employers and employees. – NSTP file pic, for illustration purposes only

LETTERS: The response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the inequality that exists between employers and employees.

Many workers have been either retrenched or put on unpaid leave to save costs. A stimulus package to deal with the effects of this pandemic does not cover adequately the welfare of those workers and their families.

For example, how is it going to assist the 13,000 Malaysia Airlines workers who have to go on "voluntary" unpaid leave or many others who wll have to stop work for two weeks? Do they get paid, and if not, how are they to survive?

Economic measures tend not to favour workers.

We can see this in 2018 when the then Pakatan Harapan government raised the minimum wage for Malaysian workers by RM100, after protest.

It's funny that it took over a decade to establish a basic minimum wagge that covers all Malaysian workers when a similar effort is not needed to lower taxes on the rich.

Corporate tax, for example, dropped from 30 to 25 percent in a similar period (1997 to 2012).

Taxes on wealth, capital gains (except on real estate) and inheritance do not exist, even though the Malaysian median salary of RM2,308 is much lower than the living wage of RM2,700 in Kuala Lumpur. Even the average wage of just over RM3,000 is not much better.

If we take the starting salary of workers, the condition becomes even more dismal with salaries lower than RM2,000 considered normal.

Putting this aside, work conditions are also deteriorating in Malaysia.

This is evident in the increasing reliance on outsourcing of business functions, where companies prefer to hire third-party vendors who supply resources on a contractual basis with lower remuneration and benefits.

Supposedly it's for a short term, when in reality, the contracts are planned to be renewed regularly from the outset.

So a permanent position is filled adequately with temporary resources to cut costs.

What's more heartbreaking is that even government facilities are beset with this malady, with hospitals and schools staffed by temporary staff who stay on the same salary for 20 years and more on the technicality that theirs is a contract position.

Even for permanent staff, employers are pushing employees to devote their recreational and rest time to finish up work to squeeze every last bit of productivity from them.

Whatever happened to the 8-8-8 rule, where eight hours in a day are reserved for work, recreation and rest?

It is tragic to imagine that the labour force that needs to unite is kept separate whereas employers stay united in the powerful Malaysian Employers Federation.

We would not be here worrying about whether the government will come up with schemes to benefit gig-economy workers, the workers put on unpaid leave or even retrenched workers if all of them have their own unions to champion their cause.

ARVEENT KATHIRTCHELVAN

Kuala Lumpur

*The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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