Baru Bian’s Labour Day Message
1 May 2012
This Labour Day I wish to acknowledge the contribution of all workers towards the development of this country and its economy. ‘Labour’ is commonly taken to mean the general body of wage earners but we must not forget the huge body of the population who expend their energy in labour each day but do not receive any wages. These wives or husbands, parents, grandparents and housekeepers are the people who manage the household so that other members of the family are able to join the labour force to earn their wages, and their contributions must be appreciated also.
It is the collective effort of the labour force which shapes the economy of a nation. Of a population of 2.4 million, Sarawak’s labour force numbers about 1 million, and this number would be greater if better job opportunities were available in this state. As it is, a large number leave Sarawak to work in West Malaysia and Singapore because of poor pay and a lack of jobs. We recognize the sacrifices of all those involved; those who leave and those who are left behind.
We need to question why so many of our workers have left the state, with the result that we have to import labour from our neighbouring countries. Firstly a huge percentage of our workforce has no post secondary education and the only opportunities for them are in the plantation and construction industries. However, the pay in these sectors is so low that it is impossible to survive on these wages. They have no choice but to seek better pay elsewhere. The income disparity between the high and low income groups is widening. We need to reconsider our education policies to improve access to education so that the employment potential of our people is raised. We need to increase the numbers of labour force with post secondary education to a figure much higher than the 17% that it is now. Sarawak being the richest state in resources, her people deserve better than what they have been getting the past 30 years or more. Without such fundamental changes to the demographics of our workforce, it is safe to say that any talk about becoming a developed and industralised state with ample work for our people would be meaningless, and we will be destined to remain one of the poorest states of Malaysia.
For the middle strata of the workforce, issues such as adequate rest days, maternity and paternity leave, minimum pay and other benefits are important to ensure our workers are able to sustain their families and also to work towards improving their lives. Discrimination and harassment are seldom reported, but this is no indication that they do not happen; more likely it is due a lack of awareness of one’s rights in the workplace. Health and safety issues in the workplace need to be addressed as we are lagging behind in this aspect.
It would be remiss of me to omit mention of the large numbers of domestic workers in this country, on whom so many families depend. They are a group of people who contribute so much to the family, and their influence, whether intended or not, direct or indirect, cannot be ignored. Other significant groups of migrant labour are those who work in the plantations and the construction industry. Without them, the oil palm bunches would not be harvested and the iconic KLCC and our DUN building would not have been built. Their contribution to our nation’s growth and development is significant.
There is a belief that we define ourselves in most cases by our work. If this is the case, we should pause to think about how the quality of our work is defining us as a society. Can we say that our work and our working culture reflect integrity, excellence, compassion and well-being? If not, why do we question the shortcomings of our community? As we celebrate the contribution of our workers towards the economy and prosperity of our country, let us reflect on this today and resolve to better ourselves in all aspects of our work and our interactions in the workplace.
Happy Labour Day and have good rest.
N70 Ba’ Kelalan/