KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies must collectively establish a wage floor to prevent a race-to-the-bottom in wage suppression, which disproportionately harms women, said Deputy Investment, Trade and Industry (Miti) Minister Liew Chin Tong.

He emphasised the importance of recognising that increasing women’s participation in the workforce is a global positive force.

“Globally, more women in the workforce is essential for ensuring higher combined family incomes, leading to increased domestic consumption in our societies.

“To facilitate more female workforce participation, we need a strong care economy. This requires stronger social conditions, such as childcare and aged care, which will enhance our service sectors and contribute to more resilient societies overall,” he said.

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Liew made these remarks at the Apec Joint Meeting of Ministers for Women and Ministers Responsible for Trade in Arequipa, Peru, according to a statement released by the ministry today.

He pointed out that Malaysia offers globally relevant lessons despite contradictions in women’s labor force participation.

The female labour participation rate (FLPR) in Malaysia stands at 56 per cent compared to 82.9 per cent for men, lower than many Southeast Asian economies.

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However, Malaysia has notable successes, with women constituting 58 per cent of the civil service.

“At the decision-making level in the civil service (Jusa/super scale C and above), 42 per cent are women, which is very high among developing countries,” he said.

He noted that from 2023 onwards, Malaysia mandated that 30 per cent of public listed board members be women, with high compliance rates.

“Thus, at the decision-making level in business and government, women are making significant progress. Yet, the overall female labour participation rate remains low,” he added.

Liew attributed this contradiction to Malaysia’s long-term dependence on unskilled and cheap foreign labour over the past 25 years, leading to wage suppression and a lack of business interest in hiring women.

There is also insufficient public provision of childcare, aged care, and other infrastructure to support women’s workforce participation.

As the Malaysian economy moves up the value chain, he said more skilled workers will be needed, and higher wages will attract more women into the formal workforce.

“A tight labour market also encourages employers to pay more attention in making it more attractive for women to join the workforce,” he added. — Bernama