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The Tiktok video of a man claiming that his boss did not pay his wages for five months and the news that he committed suicide went viral. As usual, I was careful not to forward it because in this world of deception, such news perhaps may not be true: maybe it is old news, maybe it did not take place in Malaysia. But when finally the truth was exposed and reality sank in, I found it really tragic and painful. Malaysiakini reported that a Pakistani man, Shahzad Ahmed was found dead at a worksite along Jalan Ampang on April 17. His video was real and he did not fake his death.
He came here to work, perhaps borrowed much money and when his wages were not paid, he took his own life. He came here looking to make a living and ended up dead. He was only 30. He may not be the first but can he be the last? It was reported that a total of 266 people committed suicide nationwide during the movement restrictions from March 18 to October 30 based on a news article in November 2020. This works out to 30 suicides per month or one every day during the period. The main contributing factor was debt caused by job losses and family problems.
Because of his death, the Human Resource Minister on 29 April 2021 announced that E-wages will be implemented which can track real time wage payments. Thank you Shahzad Ahmed for making this possible. This year’s May Day should be dedicated to you. Your death was our wake-up call.
The crisis discriminates
The viral video will haunt us. It showed a boss and a worker, living in 2 different worlds. The haves and the have-nots. Is this the world we want to live in? The Covid-19 virus saw no discrimination as it infected people from different religions, ethnicities and classes equally. But do all of us live in the same bubble?
While workers struggle to makes ends meet, the super rich have another struggle to contend with. They struggle how to spend their money which is in in abundance. That is why we see the income gap increasing during the pandemic. We see stock markets doing well and some people go on shopping sprees.
This crisis discriminates. Some Malaysians get their daily tonic by posting videos on social media to highlight how they are discriminated against by the other ethnic groups. But many fail to see how the system discriminates against the poor irrespective of ethnicity. During the pandemic, people were baffled as stock market valuations were soaring while the real economy remained crippled. The pandemic has exposed that small businesses and low-income workers who do essential work suffer while the big players do well as they have benefited disproportionately from low interest rates during the slump. Every capitalist crisis causes misery for the majority and a boom time for the minority.
Jarud Romadan, a researcher from Khazanah Research Institute highlighted the fact that that disadvantaged groups are most vulnerable in this pandemic as underlying inequalities affect the distribution of health outcomes. He said, “It is often observed that poverty breeds ill-health, while ill-health perpetuates poverty. Ill health diminishes incomes and increases health care costs. Low incomes contribute to ill health via a multiplicity of deprivations such as inadequate healthcare and unsanitary living conditions.”
Keeping wages low in good times and bad times
During good times and bad times, one mantra which has always been consistent for all seasons is the capitalist reasoning that wages must be kept low. Each time when minimum wages are to be reviewed, this tiresome mantra is replayed.
On Monday (26 April 2021), a journalist highlighted to me that rubbish collectors working for a Selangor GLC – Hebat Abadi Sdn Bhd went on strike after a new agreement meant that they would lose as much as 66% or two-thirds of their allowance. Imagine rubbish collection – an essential service not impacted by the crisis, yet these heroes who do these 3D jobs are told to take a paycut. After some convincing, they went back to work. While top earners in GLCs earn huge wages, they have the heart to cut the pay of the poor to keep up their wages and their lifestyle.
The last minimum wage order was gazetted on 10 January 2020 and came into operation on 1 February 2020. Which means the next review would be February 2022 which is less than 10 months away. Do you expect the wages to go up or will we hear the evergreen mantra once again?. Both PH and BN in the last election promised that minimum wages will be increased to RM 1500 in one term. Now it looks like the pandemic has come to their rescue.
Now the bosses are again quick to ensure that wages are suppressed and Covid is the best excuse. What is worst is that, they have successfully lobbied the Government not to enforce the housing and Amenities act. Previously Minister of Human Resources Saravanan who bravely exposed cases of employee abuse by highlighting the dreadful housing conditions of these workers hostels, claiming that they were not fit for humans to live in, even he made a sudden U-turn and succumbed to the demands of the capitalist class.
The pandemic will help them rationalise that minimum wages should not be increased. Nobody will dare to talk about a review because to have a job itself is seen as luxury. It was reported that new degree graduates recorded a decrease in monthly income where most of them earned between RM1,001 and RM1,500 in 2020 compared to RM2,001-RM2,500 in 2019. This was revealed by the Department of Statistics’ chief Mohd Uzir Mahidin.
Only Cuepacs have asked for a minimum wage of RM 1800 so that civil servants can earn at least RM2,510, above the poverty line. Since they are government workers, they can always use their leverage as the general election looms. They can bend any government of the day to their demands. The same cannot be said of other workers.
Obscene inequality sanctioned
On 23 March 2021, it was reported that Malaysia’s top bankers received pay hikes and bonuses despite a gloomy 2020. The Malaysian Reserve reported that at least three of those bankers received more than a 10 per cent pay hike, while others received remuneration in bonuses and perks. AmBank’s AMMB Holdings Bhd CEO Datuk Sulaiman Mohd Tahir took home RM6.64 million in 2020 compared to RM 4.2 million in 2019
Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) President and CEO Datuk Abdul Farid Alias got a 10.2 per cent increase in salary 2020 compared to RM8.43 million in 2019. Now he gets RM9.4 million and if we break this down to monthly income, it works out to RM783,333 a month and his daily wage would be around RM 26k. That would be 21 months of minimum wage
Datuk Mohd Nasir Ahmad the chairman of CIMB, another GLC, received RM1.51 million, a 2.7 per cent increase from 2019’s RM1.47 million. He would take home a salary of near to RM 126,000 a month. A normal Petronas Senior Executive salary would be around RM 90,000. This goes on and on.
A senior cleaner in Hospital Bahagia who has a thirty years service is paid RM 1100 per month. Yet legislation, the contract system, and crony contractors will ensure wages are kept low. It would take him 712 years or 8 lifetimes for him to get a monthly salary of the Maybank CEO in the year of the pandemic
We talk daily about why wages must be kept low. We talk about why the economy will not allow minimum wages to be increased, why workers need to take a pay cut, and why someone like Shahzad Ahmed has to kill himself.
The Covid has taught us many lessons. Perhaps the biggest lesson we need to learn is that there is something terribly wrong with our value system and our morality.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia