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Abdullah’s first priority on his return from “honeymoon”-cum-official visit to Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Italy should be to meet MTUC leaders and initiate tripartite dialogue on MTUC demands for minimum wage and Cola to avert large-scale industrial action

Media Conference           
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Wednesday): I have today given notice to the Speaker, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah for an urgent parliamentary debate on the demand for minimum wage and cost of living (Cola) for private-sector workers in a motion of urgent definite importance on Monday. 

This is the motion I will move on Monday: 

“That  under Standing Order 18(1), the House gives leave to Ketua Pembangkang YB Lim Kit Siang to move a motion of urgent, definite public importance, viz: the MTUC demand  for minimum wage and cost of living allowance (Cola) for private sector with potential to result in large-scale industrial action. 

“On Monday, 25th June 2007,  Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) staged a 14-location nation-wide picketing by thousands of workers  after discussions with the government on its campaign for a minimum wage of RM900 a month and cost of living (Cola) of RM300 for private sector employees came to a deadlock. 

“A week earlier, MTUC presented a seven-page memorandum to the Prime Minister asking for minimum wage and Cola for the private sector but did not elicit any appropriate response. 

“According to an MTUC study, some four million out of the 10 million workers it represents are earning below the poverty line.  Even in Johor Baru where cost of living is extremely high, industrial workers are paid as low as RM390. Even five-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur pay a basic wage of RM290 per month to cleaners and waiters. 

“The Prime Minister should initiate tripartite talks involving the government, MTUC and employer representatives on MTUC demand for minimum wage and Cola to avoid escalation of industrial action and ensure industrial peace with justice for three reasons: 

  • A follow-up to the recent 35% salary increase and 100% increase in Cola for public sector employees to ensure that private-sector workers, especially in low-wage categories, are assured of a decent living and  a basic fair wage;

  • The flooding of the country with millions of migrant workers on low wages and poor working conditions;

  • The loss of confidence of the MTUC in the Human Resources Minister YB Fong Chan Onn’s ability to resolve the issue.”

I am shocked to learn from the MTUC President, Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud that in his 44 months as Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had not had any single meeting with the MTUC leaders despite repeated MTUC requests for such a dialogue. 

I can understand the depth of disenchantment of the MTUC leaders with Fong Chan Onn as the capability, influence and even seriousness of the Human Resources Minister come under grave question when he is unable to arrange even a single meeting between the Prime Minister and the MTUC leaders in 44 months. 

Abdullah’s failure to meet with the MTUC leaders even for once in 44 months also casts an adverse reflection on the Prime Minister’s inclinations and sympathies, as a pro-labour Prime Minister would have had several meetings with MTUC leaders already in the 3 years and 8 months that Abdullah had been Prime Minister. 

This is a great failing in Abdullah’s 3 year 8 month premiership which he should rectify immediately. 

For this reason, Abdullah’s first priority on his return from “honeymoon”-cum-official visit to Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Italy should be two-fold: 

  • to meet up with MTUC leaders on their concerns and grievances; and

  • to initiate a tripartite dialogue on MTUC demand for minimum wage and Cola for private-sector workers to avert large-scale industrial action which would not be conducive to enhancing Malaysia’s much-troubled  international competitiveness.



* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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