KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 — Anthony Loke, the newly elected DAP secretary-general, on Labour Day reminded policymakers of the harsh conditions many of the country’s workers still face today and pushed them to accord more protection and beef up efforts to raise living standards.
Loke said workers across all sectors and income brackets are still reeling from the fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with low-income workers hit especially hard by the movement curbs that left thousands either jobless or forced to take pay cuts.
The Seremban MP and former minister noted that the participation rate among workers in existing social protection programmes remains low, while millions of low-waged labourers could be plunged into old-age poverty as their retirement savings deplete from the special Covid-19 withdrawals allowed by the government in the last two years.
“More than ever, the pandemic highlighted the pressing need for greater social protection for workers,” Loke said in a statement to mark the May Day celebration.
“We must invest more efforts to extend this social protection to Malaysian workers including those without formal employment contracts such as ride-hailing drivers and other gig workers,” the DAP leader added.
“When strong political will underpinned by bipartisan cooperation is necessary to deliver greater social protection for Malaysian workers, DAP stands ready to work with all parties who share the same objective.”
The Employment Insurance System (EIS), which provides unemployment income temporarily for workers who have lost their jobs, only has 6.9 million contributors as of April 2022, Loke noted.
At least six million workers have yet to participate in the EIS administered by Perkeso, he stressed.
Putrajaya’s move to allow withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund have also left 1.6 million of its members with nearly no savings in their primary account, while three million members will have used up all of their savings in Account 2.
Shortly after the revelation, EPF chief executive officer Tunku Alizakri Alias warned about the risk of a retirement crisis if policymakers fail to replenish the savings.
Loke believes it will take decades for the savings to recover, as he urged policymakers to find “creative” long-term policies to address the problem.
“More creative and long-term policies are needed to assist workers to replenish their EPF retirement savings, especially among the B40 workers,” he said.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob in a televised address to mark Labour Day this morning said his government has implemented various measures to improve workers’ lives, including a higher minimum wage of RM1,500 and instituting labour law reforms to raise protection.
The new floor wage rate takes effect today amid protest from industries banking on cheap labour.
Loke noted unionisation among Malaysian workers is only at 6 per cent, calling it a remarkably low figure. He said the shift towards more jobs in sectors that lack job and legal security makes union membership more urgent, and urge unions to be more proactive in outreach and recruitment.
“With the move towards more jobs in the service sector, in the gig economy and towards smaller companies, I urge our unions to be more flexible and creative in their approach towards attracting membership and reaching out to the younger generation,” the DAP leader said.
Malaysia has ratified the International Labour Organization Protocol 2014 (ILO P29) in March which obliged the government to institute reforms and demonstrate progress towards preventing, criminalising and prosecuting forced labour.
Loke commended the move but said there are still syndicates that prey on vulnerable youths to sign up as workers in online scams under alleged forced labour conditions.
“According to reports, thousands of workers, many of them Malaysians, are kept working allegedly in a ‘lawless’ frontier at the Thai-Myanmar border for online gambling and scamming syndicates,” he said.
“I call upon the government to bring the full force of law against the perpetrators of forced labour and fraudulent online ads targeting job-searching young workers.”