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MALAYSIA: Malaysian - Wages - 2002-04-08
Monthly Wages...What Monthly Wages?
The plantation industry should close shop if it is not prepared to pay decent wages.
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 March 2000.

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

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