Government should rethink the Digital Economy Master Plan

Pemuda PSM is shocked to learn that, according to Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon, the Perikatan Nasional government has yet to call a single meeting with the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) since it came to power six months ago. More disturbingly, the government has not consulted with the MTUC and the Malaysian Employers Federation in the planning of its Digital Economy Master Plan to be rolled out in October.

As the youth wing of a party concerned with workers’ welfare, Pemuda PSM would like to advise the government to hold the Digital Economy Master Plan until after the proper consultations are done. This is because, as youths who are exposed to and aware of the effects of increased digitalization and automation, we are concerned with the effect such a plan would have on workers.

Already, we have seen automated machines replacing jobs involved with order taking and manufacturing. We are concerned that during this time facing the Covid-19 pandemic, where the economy has shrunk and unemployment has risen, such a plan might result in further unemployment and even decrease the chance of getting employed as more and more employers reap the benefits of automation. This is because as more work gets done by digital programs, AI and robotics, less jobs are available for the average worker.

This is not to belittle the progress of technology, rather it is a critique on how technology has been used by capitalists over the years to strip away more power from workers. Automation and digitalization, by right, are supposed to empower and ease the day-to-day lives of everybody. However, the benefits of greater productivity created by these are usually usurped by capitalists.

Take, for instance, the question of wage. According to World Bank’s 2019 Malaysia Economic Monitor report, which looks at data from 2004 to 2016, the median monthly income for those between 20 to 29-years-old with post-secondary education has remained flat at between RM 2,000 – RM 2,500. This despite Malaysia experiencing an average of 7.0 percent GDP growth annually. How much technological change had been achieved between 2004 and 2016? 2004 was the year of Bluetooth’s boom, whereas in 2016, Amazon delivered its first package by drone.

The increased productivity did not lead to increased wages. This is why we are wary of how technology is used and who it enriches. However, giving the benefit of the doubt, Pemuda PSM would like to point out a few steps to ensure the benefits of the Digital Economy Master Plan are enjoyed by common Malaysians.

1. Reduce the number of hours worked by workers but increase their hourly wage. This way, more workers can be employed and more wages can be given back to them. The increased productivity from digitization can easily fund this.

2. Introduce a wider Universal Basic Income to all Malaysians funded by the increased productivity due to automation. This can help alleviate the burden of those who are not reemployed due to a lack of jobs caused by automation.

3. Introduce a Jobs Guarantee Scheme in new industries that can be explored from digitization. This can maximise the productive capacity of Malaysia whilst ensuring everyone who is willing and able to work are guaranteed proper jobs.

4. Invest in infrastructural projects in remote areas such as railways and telecommunication towers to ensure all Malaysians have equal access to engage in the digital economy

5. Consult enough stakeholders, including normal workers, to understand their concerns and needs for upskilling and implement them into a newer Digital Economy Master Plan

Arveent Kathirtchelvan
Head of the Science and Technology Bureau
Pemuda PSM.

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