KUCHING: Land Development Minister James Masing was not telling the whole story when he claimed in the media that “we have tried all this while to recruit locals, but there are no takers.”
“We reject claims that local workers refuse to work in plantations because it is a dirty and difficult job,” said Andrew Lo, Secretary of MTUC Sarawak, in a statement. “They refuse to work simply because the employers, through their economic might, have suppressed wages and imposed miserable and even demeaning terms and conditions of employment.”
The MTUC Sarawak was expressing concerns on 12,000 Bangladeshi workers being brought in to work in the plantation sector in Sarawak. MTUC wants a tripartite council to find holistic and long-term solutions to a problem that, if not addressed, will have grave security implications.
The government has unwittingly allowed this by stifling trade unions and making it extremely difficult for workers to bargain collectively for better wages, added Lo. “Wages have fallen below productivity growth.”
Plantations offer only daily paid jobs with no security of tenure of employment, he pointed out, “So don’t blame locals for seeking better employment opportunities outside Sarawak. At least 300,000 locals are working in the peninsula, Singapore and as far away as Dubai and Africa.”
He noted that employers claim that locals showed up for work as and when they like.
Well, what do you expect if you pay them daily rated?
One must also ask whether it’s wise to develop so many labour-intensive plantations, at huge environmental cost, and that can only create low paying jobs for foreign workers,” said Lo. “Sarawak has a very low population. We should focus on human resources development to develop high-value and creative jobs rather than difficult, dirty, demeaning and dangerous jobs.”
Again, while the MTUC Sarawak recognizes that the country will need foreign workers as part of the global economy, it’s alarmed that there are already six million foreign workers in the country i.e. almost half of the country’s workforce. “The government’s efforts to reduce this reliance on foreign workers has not been successful.”
At the heart of the matter, continued Lo, is that recruitment of foreign workers is a multi-billion dollar business for recruitment agents both in the importing and exporting country. “At an average fee of RM8000 per worker that is RM48 billion. If this money is used to pay salaries and bonus to local workers, they are more than willing to take up the jobs.”
Employers too prefer foreign workers because they are much easier to control, claims MTUC Sarawak. “Foreign workers have no avenue to complain if they are forced to work long hours with less than satisfactory living conditions. They are afraid that they may be sent back without pay.”
The implementation of minimum wages of RM800 in 2012 is still below the poverty line index.
In fact, the average monthly wage of 182,000 of the 258,000 workers in the agriculture and forestry sectors in Sarawak is still less than RM700 i.e. below the legal requirement of RM800. Even the employers’ groups especially from the forestry and plantation sectors are strongly against any increase after the ongoing review, conducted every two years.
~ Free Malaysia Today