Meet the 62% of Malaysians not covered by formal social protection

Informal workers everywhere see their demands dismissed and their rights ignored. The e-hailing drivers and food deliverers that you scold over late delivery, the mak ciks that sell your early morning nasi lemak, make-up artists, freelance writers, theatre directors sex workers- these are the people whose lives matter, but instead suffer neglect.

These were some of the issues raised by the panelists speaking in the Gabungan Marhaen forum titled “Gig Workers – Challenges and Future”. More than 80 participants took part in this exciting and revealing discussion. The forum was organised by a new coalition called JPTF (Network of Non Formal Workers) initiated by Pemuda Sosialis. The forum last night platformed informal workers such as e-hailing drivers and representatives of the sex worker community. In the two-hour forum, informal workers shared the burdens they faced, and told tales of discrimination and injustice. The forum presented an analysis of the informal workers sector and launched a campaign to unite all informal workers in Malaysia.

According to a report by KWSP, 62% of working age Malaysians are not covered by any formal social protection. These 62% of working age Malaysians work in a range of jobs as informal workers and are highly vulnerable to economic challenges that differ in scale and nature compared to those working in the formal sectors. These challenges are caused by factors such as not being guaranteed minimum statutory benefits under the Employment Act 1955, having no guaranteed minimum wage, having no labour protections, and having no labour rights to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining .

Seed Foundation’s Jane and Nasha, representatives of social workers handling issues of sex workers, gave accounts of problems faced by sex workers including abuse by authorities and gangsters, hate-crimes and even abuse and murder of sex workers by clients and vengeful lovers alike. These are the lived experiences of a sector of informal workers, namely sex workers, that dishearteningly have gone on unnoticed by the mainstream public.

E-hailing workers also shared their plight. Three panelists who are e-hailing workers spoke about their work – Siong, Mani and Muazz. Social security that was supposed to be a basic necessity for all workers are denied them. A panellist, Muazz Ishak, an e-hailing food deliverer stated that e-hailing drivers and riders are treated by their company like a commodity and denied their rights and protections as workers

Due to the pandemic that has been going on for almost two years, many had to resort to being informal workers ranging from e-hailing drivers and riders to even sex workers. For the transgender community particularly, being a part of the sexual minority community offers them the least available opportunities in the society. Those who were beauticians, small business owners and promoters before the pandemic had to resort to sex work because of the unstable economy. And by being sex workers, they are now even more vulnerable and exposed to discrimination.

An analysis based on a survey done on the informal workers community was a main highlight of the event. Based on the feedback by a small sample of informal workers the following was highlighted: for more than half of the informal workers surveyed, they made less than the minimum wage set by the state and their income as informal workers could not sustain their livelihood. Furthermore, most informal workers were not protected under any social security scheme such as KWSP or PERKESO. The informal workers surveyed stated that their future is uncertain even with the help from the government. They simply have no financial security being in the informal workerss sector.

The survey also collected demands from the informal workers. The most critical demands are to raise their wages and to give them the social security they need as well as to give attention to the companies that are outright abusing their workers, systematically denying their rights and dismissing the needs of their workers. From the representative of the sex workers, demands include incentives and help from the government that could uplift their livelihood and with the main intention of taking them out of the sex industry.

Informal workers are very much prominent in the gig economy. Their presence is inescapable and their contribution to the society is immeasurable. But when it comes to discrimination and abuse, their concerns and their livelihood- these issues are too easily dismissed in our society. Why do we let ourselves become oblivious to these blatant injustices? As part of the Gabungan Marhaen initiative, we demand for better conditions for all citizens no matter what role they play in the society, be it as the e-hailing drivers and riders that would toil themselves for wages that are insufficient, or the sex workers in the alleyways that are waiting for a future where they may be something more than just a commodity in this economy.

Ahmad Yasin
Gender Bureau
Pemuda Sosialis
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

For those interested to join this new initiative on in-formal contact, a telegram channel has been set up in which all informal sectors may join and voice and share their burden. The telegram link is as follow or can follow Jaringan Tidak Formal twitter at @jptf_psm on twitter.

Today Gabungan Marhain forum will on the Landgrab issues faced by the Orang Asli/Asal Communities. 15 October 2021 (Friday) , 2.30pm) Register for zoom or join us via facebook @GabunganMarhaen

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