Ahead of UN’s poverty study, union wants minimum wage, hourly pay considered

A woman shops in a wet market in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2016. — Reuters pic
A woman shops in a wet market in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2016. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — The United Nations’ (UN) fact-finding mission on the scale of poverty in Malaysia must take into consideration several factors, notably the minimum wage and wage per hour, to better reflect the actual situation, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said today.

Its secretary-general J. Solomon listed the foreign worker situation in the country, minimum wage, income per hour and a realistic reassessment of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as the measuring points.

“The raw employment figures of the country would be a misleading indicator, as it does not factor in underemployment and the depression of wage levels which are due to a number of factors.

“The foreign worker situation in the country should not be treated separate to this review, but taken as one so that the whole poverty and employment situation could be viewed in totality,” he said in a statement.

Welcoming the effort, Solomon said Indicators such as hourly wage may be a more accurate reflection of the situation, as any assessment of poverty must be confined to the standard hours of work for a worker and not factor in overtime pay or income received from a second job.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights will undertake a 10-day fact-finding mission to Malaysia later this month, amid doubts over how Putrajaya rates its own success in reducing the number of hardcore poor.

While acknowledging Malaysia has very strong policy records, the world body said it will scrutinise past and existing strategies to assess how the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has acted on its own pledge to help those affected by poverty, including dissecting the official index.

The PH administration made a range of commitments to address poverty when it came to power 15 months ago as part of pledges to elevate the living standards of marginalised communities, among them, vowing to return subsidies, improve access to welfare and strengthen human rights.

UN said the fact-finding mission will chiefly focus on indigenous peoples, children, women, people with disabilities, and migrant workers.

It also wants to look into the impact of land tenure, environmental issues and climate change; social support and education, and the extent to which people living in poverty are able to enjoy their civil and political rights.

Solomon also commended the PH government for welcoming the study, and opening itself to scrutiny, which it said is a departure from the previous Barisan Nasional administration.

The MTUC, Solomon said, would request that the mission extend its remit to cover an evaluation of not just extreme poverty, but relative poverty and the extent of the problems involving the working poor in the country.

“Measures used should be realistic, and include the assessment of the minimum level of income to have a decent life in Malaysia,” he added.

He said that the MTUC would also like to nominate its own representative to be part of the mission, “so that the real issues afflicting the common people are not lost under a statistical pile”.

Officials figures suggest Malaysia’s national poverty rate had fallen from nearly 50 per cent in 1970 to 0.4 per cent in 2016, suggesting that poverty has been virtually eradicated.

Yet, the UN said poverty is persistently higher for certain groups including children and indigenous peoples, while independent analysis suggested that if Malaysia’s poverty line were aligned with comparable countries, the poverty rate would be significantly higher.

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