MALAYSIA: Malaysian - Wages - 2002-04-08
Monthly Wages...What Monthly Wages?
The plantation industry should close shop if it is not prepared to pay
by A. Sivarajan
The recent decision by the Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association
(MAPA) not to grant a monthly wage to rubber tappers and field workers,
and the subsequent response by the Ministers and the union concerned,
is really a puzzle.
National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) secretary general G. Sangkaran
expressed great disappointment that MAPA has refused to grant similar
monthly wages for the rubber tappers as those given to their fellow
workers in the oil palm plantations.
Monthly wage ?what monthly wage? The MAPA, the NUPW and Dato?Dr Fong
Chan On, the Human Resources Minister, have clearly misled the plantation
workers and the public by claiming that the oil palm harvesters are
paid monthly wages.
To put things in the correct perspective, the collective agreement currently
in force for the oil palm harvesters does NOT provide for a monthly
wage at all.
Last year, when the palm oil collective agreement was referred to the
Industrial Court due to a deadlock between MAPA and the NUPW over the
monthly wage issue, Fong quickly intervened to settle the matter out
of court in Feb 2001.
He then proudly announced that the monthly wage issue had been successfully
resolved and oil palm workers would receive a guaranteed monthly wage
of RM325. This meagre wage was declared as a historical achievement.
Upon studying the collective agreement, it was clear that the RM325
was not a monthly wage but only a guaranteed minimum wage. The exploitative
colonial wage structure still exists whereby workers?wages are determined
by palm oil prices in the world market, weather, size and weight of
fruit, the yield of the fields and not by the amount of labour put in
by the worker.
It doesn't take an expert to declare that the wages received by oil
palm workers are still daily-rated wages because the wages earned are
still based on what they harvest each day. If a worker doesn't go to
work, then he is not paid for the day. This truth was hidden from the
eyes of the Malaysian public, who were made to believe that oil palm
harvesters are now receiving monthly-rated wages.
In a recent Estate Workers Support Committee study on oil palm workers?wages
in Kedah, Perak and Selangor, actual wages received were tabulated from
the workers?salary slips from April 2001 to June 2001.
It was proven that the wage structure is not a monthly wage and furthermore
it fluctuated from as low as RM 312 to a maximum of RM650 with an average
income of only RM 440.
Thus, we fail to see the rationale of requesting MAPA to grant "monthly
wages?for the rubber tappers as the oil palm workers?so-called monthly
wage issue was a sham all the way.
Samy Vellu to submit report to Cabinet...again!
It is like watching a TV serial all over again. This drama actually
started back in June 1999 when Dato Seri Samy Vellu announced that the
MIC was preparing a detailed report to be submitted to the cabinet to
enable estate workers to enjoy a monthly wage of RM900 to RM1,000. (The
Sun, 12 Feb 2002)
Fong followed the line in requesting a group of experts from the University
of Malaya to carry out a study on the feasibility of monthly wages in
Then a historic moment: the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet
had agreed in principle and fully endorsed that the plantation workers
should be given monthly wages. (1 June 2000, The Sun)
The saga finally ended when the report by the University of Malaya experts
was finally submitted to the government at the end of 2000.
The University of Malaya study...X-Files!
Fong was very excited when he announced that the Ministry had gathered
a team of experts to do an exhaustive study on the feasibility of paying
monthly wages to plantation workers. He proudly said that the study
was fully funded by MAPA.
It has been already two years now - and a large sum of money has been
spent - and yet, no one knows the outcome of the study. X ¡©Files!
It is puzzling why this study is not made public. The Malaysian public
has a right to know the results of the UM study.
Fong, Resign Now!
The Minister has made an absolute mockery of the issue of monthly wages
and has misled not only the 180,000 plantation workers but the rakyat
as a whole
We call for Fong's resignation from the post of Human Resources Minister
if he still fails to enforce clear laws to provide for decent monthly
wages for the plantation workers.
If the Minister has failed to ensure benefits for the 180,000 plantation
workers, his credibility in ensuring the well being of the rest of the
9 million workers in our country is questionable.
Do We need An Exploitative Industry?
Over the 100 years this industry has existed in this country, the plantation
capitalists?argument has been the same: it is about losing profits;
losing competitive advantage; thus we need to keep wages low - which
means "let's sacrifice the plantation workers.?/div>
It is surprising how the planters, over the years have bulldozed this
argument - in spite of annual increases in profits, extraordinary oil
palm prices during the 1997 crisis, and successfully diversifying the
industry to multinational levels.
Does it look like a dying industry making losses? Certainly not!
Thus, through the blatant exploitation of workers, the plantation companies
have successfully kept the workers poor enough to be recognised as a
poverty group in every
Five Year Malaysia Plan.
Why do Malaysians need an industry that lives by keeping its workers
poor? Close it down! We don't need an exploitative industry.
The workers have enough skills: they can work on the plantations under
a similar programme as the FELDA settlers; so not to worry - the country
will not be deprived of its latex and oil palm resources for growth.
A. Sivarajan is co-ordinator of the Estate Worker