Submitted by Najiah
on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
SERIOUSLY, is RM720 salary per month good enough to go around in the city?
“Of course not, and what kind of a question was that?” my wife retorted, with a puzzled look on her face.
Precisely, I said, but I couldn’t help posing that stupendous question to her last night after reading a report on the "demand" by the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) for the government to implement a minimum wage for its members.
I must admit I was taken aback to know that a large number of our civil servants, particularly those in the support group, are taking home that much on a monthly basis. In fact, some are earning less than that, going by what was revealed by Cuepacs president Datuk Omar Osman in the report.
Dear readers, I beg your pardon for my ignorance or lack of knowledge on the welfare of our civil servants. I had always thought that civil servants currently earned at least RM800 a month!
According to Omar, currently, the salary received by those in the support group was below the poverty line of RM720 a month, with those in Grade 1 to Grade 16 in the Support Group II starting at RM647 salary per month!
What an irony — we read countless reports about the government intent on eradicating poverty in the country, but some of their civil servants are ridiculously, in my opinion, living below the poverty line, struggling every month to make ends meet and to cope with the perpetual rise of cost of living each year.
The last time there was a salary review for civil servants was in 2007. And, over the past three years, we have had more than three petrol price hikes, which resulted in the subsequent increases of prices of basic necessities.
My quick research also revealed that the wage trend in Malaysia had recorded only an annual 2.6 per cent growth during the past 10 years! According to the study by the World Bank, basic income should cover a group of foods that meet the nutritional needs of the members of a household. It should also be able to meet other basic necessities like clothing, rent, fuel and utilities, transport and communications, medical expenses, education and recreation.
Then again, can we really achieve these with a meagre RM720 or less in monthly salary in the city?
The World Bank, it was reported, had also recommended that medium-income countries should calculate Poverty Income Level based on US$2.50 (approximately RM7.50 at the current exchange rate) per individual per day. This means that a person would need that much a day for both food and non-food necessities.
According to the report, if this were used for Malaysia, whose average household has four family members, a family would need RM840 a month for them to be out of the poor-income bracket. No wonder that the majority of civil servants are taking part-time jobs to make ends meet and according to Omar, this has affected productivity.
Apparently, those in the civil service’s support group are not alone, so I discovered. They have "friends" in the private sector too. The National Employment Return study, conducted last year by the Human Resource Ministry, revealed that almost 34 per cent of about 1.3 million workers surveyed earned less than RM700 a month. The study also suggested that the wages be increased after it was found that it was hard to just rely on market forces "to gently force" employers to increase salaries.
Following the survey, Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam had said that the government, in principle, agreed that wages will have to be increased, citing an excuse that the influx of foreign workers was among several reasons why wages did not increase for the past 10 years.
And, the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) was unveiled months later with 10 big ideas that will be the pillars in charting the development towards a high income economy by 2020.
So, we should be glad to know that the government is aware of this statistics, including the recommendations by the World Bank, and the importance of creating a high income society for the country to become a high income economy. And, works are in progress to achieve this.
But, for Omar to remind the powers-that-be to seriously look into the welfare of the civil servants, it speaks volumes of their predicament.
“The basic salary should be at least RM850 or RM920 a month," he said.
Sounds like a fair "demand" to me and it is wise for the government not to adopt the "don’t care" attitude on this.
So, it is hoped that the three-day Minimum Salary Laboratory meeting, which starts today to deliberate on the proposal for a RM900 minimum salary for the civil service, could one day bring smiles to our "hardworking" civil servants.
MUZLI MOHD ZIN quit civil service 17 years ago due to many reasons, one of which was the desire to improve his quality of life on an express mode. He found it hard to juggle a permanent day-job and part-time job at night, like his former colleagues, to make ends meet. It was tiring. There was life to enjoy too, he reckoned. He receives brickbatsat firstname.lastname@example.org.