Budget 2022 fails to ease pressure on vulnerable groups

It has failed to provide meaningful relief to those caught in the low and middle-income trap, K Veeriah says

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Sketch: Wong Soak Koon/Aliran

Over 600,000 households have reportedly slid from the middle-income strata to the low-income groups due to job losses and pay cuts arising from the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.

Though statistics may be lacking, some from the top 20% of society may have dropped to the middle-income strata because of the economic challenges the pandemic has brought forth.

Given this, many would have expected – and rightly so – the government to have adopted a holistic approach in tackling the real problems that vulnerable groups face.

Sadly, that was not the case as the Budget has failed to provide meaningful relief to those caught in the vicious cycle of the low and middle-income trap. Much to the dismay of the working class, the Budget had no provisions to raise the minimum wage – let alone to move towards a living wage system.

If the government is committed to the “Malaysian family” concept, it would have extended its goodwill to the marginalised in society. But it has failed to do so.

Instead, Budget 2022 was blinded by a race-centred approach. Take, for example, the exclusive RM100m matching grant for bumiputera entrepreneurs in the aerospace industry. In developing any sector of local entrepreneurship, the government should take pride in doing so without favouring any group.

That sentiment would stand as the hallmark of a government that subscribes to the ideas of providing a level platform for all who have the capacity to contribute to the technology progression of our home-grown businesses. Unfortunately, this government seems to have abrogated its moral commitment in this matter.

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The sacrifices of frontline workers – their unwavering commitment in handling the Covid pandemic – ought to have been given due recognition. Except for a thank you note, the finance minister showed little concern.

Nothing was disclosed about the government’s willingness to absorb the thousands of medical officers in permanent employment. And no mention of the contribution of the contract cleaners or security guards who had tirelessly carried out their duties without thinking of their own safety.

It is disgusting that the government is not even considering abolishing the government-sanctioned contract labour supply system despite it having been described as modern-day slavery.

As long as the government continues to outsource essential services, it ought to be labelled as a “modern-day slave master”, going by the International Labour Organization’s definition of forced labour indicators.

All said, Budget 2022 lacks depth in tackling the fundamental issues confronting the most vulnerable segment of society.

K Veeriah is a veteran trade unionist based in Bukit Mertajam, Penang

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