A bleak 2003 May Day for Malaysian workers with a MTUC President who had no time for the important EPF Board meeting on lowest dividend in 40 years, one of the worst Labour Ministers in history whose primary concern is his political survival in MCA factional warfare, a Parliament totally unconcerned about the plight of workers and a deepening economic gloom from SARS
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): Malaysian workers will observe a bleak 2003 May Day tomorrow, with a MTUC President who had no time for the important Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Board meeting on the lowest dividend in 40 years, one of the worst Labour Ministers in the country’s history whose primary concern is his political survival in the MCA factional warfare, a Parliament totally unconcerned about the plight of workers and a deepening economic gloom from a quadruple whammy, terrorism fears, global economic downturn, the Iraq War and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
The MTUC President, Senator Datuk Zainal Rampak was also too busy to attend the Public Forum on “Lowest dividend in 40 years - what is the future of EPF" in Kuala Lumpur on Monday night to explain why he could not find time from the three-week International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Body meeting in Geneva in March to attend a one-day meeting of the EPF Board on the EPF dividend, raising the question whether the time has come for him to resign from the EPF Board in favour of another MTUC leader who could safeguard the interests of the 10.3 million EPF contributors in a more responsible, diligent and effective manner.
Trade union leaders complain that they have one of the worst Labour Ministers in history, as Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn has neither heart nor mind for the problems and challenges of labour, being too pre-occupied with his survival stakes in the MCA factional power struggle between the MCA A and B teams – knowing fully well that if the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik goes, so does he too. As a result, the National Joint Labour Advisory Council (NJLAC), which is supposed to be the Labour Parliament, has not met for more than a year – not because there are no pressing labour issues or problems, but because Fong has just no time for them!
Before May Day in 1999, over a thousand estate workers and their representatives from all over the country thronged Parliament House with their memorandum on their long-standing grievances as the most marginalized and exploited segment of the Malaysian population – presenting their legitimate demands for a fair and just minimum monthly wage and better housing.
On the very same day, the then DAP MP for Teluk Intan M. Kula Segaran sought unsuccessfully to adjourn Parliament to debate the plight of over 300,000 estate workers in a motion of urgent, definite public importance.
Four years later, we have a Parliament which is completely unmoved by the scandal of a minimum monthly wage of RM325 for oil palm estate workers two years ago and RM350 for rubber estate workers announced on April 22, 2003 (not a word of outrage in the Dewan Negara which was still in session), which are poor excuses for a salary when the current poverty line is RM1,200 a month per household in Malaysia (Third Outline Perspective Plan 2001-2010).
As one critic eloquently protested: “Is this money enough to pay for food, infant formula, clothing, medicine or bus tickets? This is insufficient even for one person let alone an entire family.”
But the government and Parliament are inured to such gross injustices and Fong can claim credit for introducing minimum month wages for the estate sector which are historic by their heartlessness and lack of social conscience.
The quadruple whammy which has hit the Malaysian economy, terrorism fears, the global economic downturn which had rendered the 6 to 6.5 per cent economic growth forecast for this year in the 2003 budget last September irrelevant even before the end of last year, the Iraq war and now the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic have cast a dark pall over the 2003 May Day, with Bank Negara’s revised forecast last month of 4.5 per cent economic growth this year having to be slashed by another one or two percentage points.
A study has warned that the deleterious impact of SARS, aggravated by a growing uncertainty, could affect many more sectors in Asia, productivity, profitability, trade and foreign investments, with the Asian economy likely to suffer a loss of US$11-50 billion.
There is nothing much to rejoice on the 2003 May Day, as Malaysian workers are confronted with a multiple crisis – crisis of the economy, Parliament, labour relations, EPF and MTUC. The occasion would be more profitably spent on mulling and re-strategising as to how the workers and the country can emerge from the multiple crisis in a better form and shape.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman