Saturday, May 22, 2010

The struggle for minimum monthly wages

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; peace and blessing be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

"With power and skill did We construct the Firmament:
For it is We Who create the Vastness of Space..." (Zariyat 51:47)

"CURRENTLY, security guards in the Klang Valley are earning a basic salary of RM450 a month while those in rural areas are getting RM250 a month.” I was shocked when I read this paragraph from a news story entitled ‘July 1 pay hike for security guards stays’ in New Straits Times dated 28th April 2010.

A posting in RakanBH in Berita Harian on 6th May too voiced concerned about the fate of security guards. It notes: “Macam mana warga tempatan nak jadi pengawal keselamatan kalau gaji asas yang ditawarkan cuma RM150 hingga RM200, tetapi kerja berisiko tinggi. (MOSYAR:BHA 29094)/ How could locals want to be security guards if the basic payment is only RM150 to RM200, but the job is highly risk.

I could not imagine a person being paid about RM200 a month in this prosperous and bountiful country while its leaders keep on speaking proudly and vocally about the high living standards of Malaysian. And I could not make up how the poor chap could coped; living with that meagre income.

A monthly income of RM200 means the worker could only spend less than RM7 a day. If the guard is a bachelor, he or she could feed on plain rice with salty fish or instant noodles regularly but what about those who have families? How do they fulfil the needs of their children for example buying milk powder or for the school going ones; their school fees, exercise books, transport fares and pocket money?

Now, after more than 50 years of independence, Human Resources Minister, Dato’ S Subramaniam announced that the RM1,100 minimum wage for security guards will be implemented July 1 despite objections by security companies.

With that move, some 150,000 security guards in the country would enjoy a pay hike of between 67 to 75 percent. One security guard who was assigned to look after Harakah’s office told the writer he was happy with the move and hope his RM600 plus salary would move into a four digit figure as soon as possible.

Not only guards were paid very low. During the by-election in Hulu Selangor recently, journalists accompanied candidates visiting labourers, rubber tappers and settlers in estates and Felda land schemes, were shock to learn that some of were paid less than RM300 per month.

Workers in estates in Hulu Selangor were said to earn RM350-RM500 per month while Felda settlers had a monthly income of about RM700 and during good seasons, they manage to earn RM1,200 per month.

According to officials of a Felda settlers association, the RM1,200 per month income would normally be for three months; other than that, settlers had hard times earning more than RM1,000.

Although many workers are earning a meagre earnings resulting difficulties in life, the government recently rejected Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC)’s proposal for the RM900 minimum monthly wages.

“Without a national minimum wage thousands of workers are paid wages below RM450 with such wage workers will remain poor forever. With such low wages, will the Prime Minister’s aim to achieve high income economy ever materialize?” said a MTUC pamphlet distributed recently.

Regarding the rights of a labourer or a worker in Islam, a scholar Dr Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry in his article ‘Fundamentals of Islamic Economy System’ among other writes: “Rights of a labourer and a worker include: that a labourer should be treated as a human being and not as a beast of burden; that dignity and respect should be attached to labour and work; that reasonable wages should be fixed at the time of employment, and that wages should be promptly paid. All these rights were given by Islam to the labour some fourteen hundred years ago when there was no concept of such rights, there were no labour unions, there were no charters of demand, there was no labour movement and there was no concept of collective bargaining.

Besides ensuring humane treatment and dignity and respect to labour, Islam provided for fixation and prompt payment of wages. The following measures were recommended by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in this respect:-

* The employers are required to fix the wages before the workers are employed. It was declared unlawful to employ any labourer at work without fixing his wages. It is reported by Abu Saeed Khudri that the Holy Prophet had forbidden employing any labourer or worker without first fixing his wages.

* Following traditions of the Prophet enjoin the believers to pay the wages without any delay:-

Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The Almighty Allah said: There will be three persons whose opponent I shall become on the Resurrection Day: A man who gave in My name and then broke trust, and a man who sold a free man and enjoyed his price, and a man who engaged a labourer and enjoyed full labour from him but did not pay him his wages. – Bukhari

Abdullah bin Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Pay the labourer his wages before his sweat dries up. - Ibn Majah

While the Malaysian government is very reluctant about the minimum wage, several countries had it done. For example Pakistan implemented it during Labour Day on 1st May.

Pakistan Daily News reported from Islamabad that Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Labour Day announced a minimum Rs7000 salary for labourers and a policy that aims at transforming the lives of working class for a better future.

He said the Cabinet approved the Labour Policy 2010 that was reflective of the vision of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and was an attempt to implement it practically. He said the policy would benefit around 50 million labours who were playing a key role in the progress and development of the country.

Gilani quoted a hadith of Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him) to pay a labour his wages before sweat dries and said it was the endeavour of his government to follow it in letter and spirit.

Other than the minimum wage, MTUC in its pamphlet also stress this important message to all working families

* Your job no longer permanent

Human Resources Minister, Datuk Dr S Subramaniam has given the green light to make drastic changes to the three major labour legislations.

The proposed changes to the Employment Act 1955, Industrial Relations Act 1967 and the Trade Union Act 1959 are seen as the worst in 40 years. The amendments, when passed, would completely remove security of tenure for thousands of workers in the country.

* Dismissal cannot be challenged

The amendment drawn up at the behest of multinational corporations and potential investors is deliberately designed to empower employers to employ workers on fixed term contract for as long as they please.

Even workers who have ten years service on a contract basis will have no right to seek redress in the event of termination. This is a drastic change from the current law and practice which accords the right of all workers, irrespective of their salary levels and length of service, including probationers and those employed on a contact basis to challenge their dismissals.

Important precedents set by our courts to safeguard workers rights will no longer be applicable. Even workers rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution are ignored.

* Removal of safeguards: No more Sunday rest day with your family

The amendments, when passed, will remove most of the safeguards existing over 60 years. Employers would be permitted to impose unreasonable working hours, change weekly rest day as the please.

* Women can be forced to work at night

New laws would remove the supervisory role of the Labour Department to impose conditions on employers who require women workers to work at night.

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