In the beginning of October, I went with some activists from the Jaringan Pekerja Kontrak Kerajaan (Government Contract Workers Network, or the JPKK) to do a spot-check. We wanted to see if contract workers employed at ministerial buildings and government schools in Putrajaya and the surrounding areas were paid the minimum wage. According to the Minimum Wages Order 2022, effective 1 May 2022 the minimum wage in Malaysia is RM1500 per month. Yet in October, five months after this minimum wage increase, we found that contract workers like cleaners and security guards were still being paid less than RM1500 per month. This was in Putrajaya, the seat of our government! Even workers in ministerial buildings were being paid below the government-mandated minimum wage. For example, we found workers at the Civil Aviation Authority, Immigration Department, and the Perbadanan Putrajaya who said they were still being paid less than RM1500 a month.
We visited about 20 schools and government buildings in Putrajaya, and about half of them had workers who were not receiving the RM1500 minimum wage. Most of the workers we talked to were Malaysian citizens, mostly Malays or Indians. Despite working in government buildings, these workers were not civil servants. They were contract workers working for private corporations, that had won cleaning or security contracts from the government. As contract workers, they are denied most protections provided through Malaysian labour law.
This sad situation reveals the thoughtlessness of our current government towards the poorest Malaysian workers. The workers we talked to were well aware that, by law they were supposed to get a pay increase in May. But they felt powerless to do anything about it, and feared retaliation from their employers. The Jabatan Tenaga Kerja (Labour Department) seems uninterested in enforcing the minimum wage law, even when violations occur a (literal!) stone’s throw away from their Putrajaya headquarters. If workers are abused like this in the Labour Department’s own neighbourhood, what hope do workers in the rest of Malaysia have?
In a time of skyrocketing inflation, this denial of their rightful wages is making it hard for these poor workers to survive. It is hard to imagine surviving on RM1500 per month in the Klang Valley, and these people are paid even less than that! The government and the Jabatan Tenaga Kerja needs to prioritise the welfare of these contract workers over the profits of their well-connected employers, and insist that all workers be paid at least the minimum wage rate. These companies are hired by the federal government, and thus the government has the leverage to force them to comply, if the people in power have the political will.
For ordinary Malaysians, we urge you to pay attention to the plight of these poorest workers. Support, donate to, or volunteer for labour unions and activist groups like the JPKK who are giving voice to these voiceless workers. Election season is coming, when many candidates will try to convince you that they put the rakyat first. Make sure to ask them what they will do to alleviate the plight of our exploited contract workers.
Prof. Dr. Darren Ong Chung Lee
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Dengkil Branch)