The Malaysian Trades Union Congressnoted in April that Second Finance Minister Johari Abdul Ghani had finally acknowledged that reliance on foreign workers had deprived locals from being paid RM2,700 as a minimum wage.
We were also surprised that it took more than 20 years for the government to realise that Malaysian workers are deprived of a living wage due to the huge dependency on foreign workers.
What happened to all the numerous calls by the unions voicing out the wage deprecation due to the influx of foreign worker? What steps did the government take to curb the inflow of foreign workers since the 1980s? In addition to the misery caused to Malaysian workers woes, just three years ago the previous government made an announcement to bring in another 1.5m foreign workers.
Again, what action did the government take when unions spoke out about the exploitation of foreign workers? It only fell on the deaf ears of the related ministries.
The government could not blame anyone but itself for the problems caused by excess foreign workers. This influx of foreign workers has caused extreme depression to Malaysians in the B40 and M40 category whose rights to job opportunities and decent livelihoods were robbed for the last 20 years.
Despite being the underlying cause of the influx of foreign workers, the government is now turning around and asking businesses to be automated and begin using artificial intelligence to ensure the minimum wage was paid for Malaysians to live decently. Is a case of too little, too late or misdirected attention again?
MTUC welcomes technology but unfortunately the emphasis of technology is not directed to the labour-intensified sectors, where there is high dependency on foreign workers, but rather in the service sectors, where the workers are largely Malaysian.
The previous government and the employers from the service sectors are aggressively using technology to the extent of laying off Malaysians who have served them for many years and replacing Malaysian graduates with foreign graduates without giving any opportunities for these Malaysian workers to prosper.
Making the situation worsen, the service sector is even getting rid of Malaysian workers and opting for automation and artificial intelligence merely to compete with the western world, under the guise of remaining competent.
The service sector is in a position to set an example by introducing RM2,700 as recommended by Bank Negara Malaysia as many service providers are profiting in the billions, not millions. But unfortunately the wealth is not shared equitably.
If the second minister of finance wishes to do justice to Malaysians, he must first ensure that the banks and the government-linked companies under his minister are exemplary in providing the minimum living wage of RM2,700 to the workers as automation and technology has already been a part of the banking scene since 1980s.
The need to reduce foreign workers in the banks in order to enjoy the Bank Negara-recommended minimum wage does not arise as there are no foreign workers in the banks. The sooner the authorities wake up and deal with the real issue instead of red herrings, the better off the nation will be for it.