All workers in Malaysia must be entitled to receive minimum wages, and a delay of this right to migrant workers as stated in the media report entitled ‘SMEs may defer minimum wages for foreign workers until Dec 31’ (New Straits Times, March 20, 2013) is unacceptable. 

The said report referred to a statement from the National Wages Consultative Council. The pronouncement certainly goes against the spirit of the Section 60(L) of the Employment Act, 1955 that is clearly against any form of discrimination amongst workers, based on whether one is a local worker or a migrant worker. 

It also goes against the core principle of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that is against any form of discrimination in respect of employment, and Article 23(2) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights that clearly states that “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work”.

The Malaysian government’s earlier declared position was that all workers, including migrant workers (foreign workers) were entitled to minimum wages was correct, but now if this right is delayed it will be wrong, unjust and discriminatory.

When the Malaysian government decided to transfer the obligation of paying the levy from employers to migrant workers, it reversed the policy behind the very introduction of the levy, which was to deter employers from hiring foreigners rather than local workers, and protect employment opportunities of the local worker. 

The move to now allow employers who pay migrant workers minimum wages to again deduct wages to recover the levy was strongly criticised by many quarters. 

Eighty-two groups including the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) vide a statement ‘Minimum Wages for All Workers, Including Migrant Workers - No to Wage Deduction to recover Levy Payable by Employers - issued also by me on Feb 5, 2013. It defeats the very intention of introducing minimum wages, if employers are allowed to remove pre-existing benefits or make new wage deductions.

Vide the Minimum Wages Order 2012 dated July 16, 2012, the Malaysian government promised Malaysian workers minimum wages in January 2013, save for workers with employers with five or fewer workers who were to receive minimum wages by July 2013. 

Then, on Dec 28, 2012, vide Minimum Wages (Amendment) Order 2012, promises to workers were broken when over 600 listed employers were permitted to pay their workers minimum wages at a later date, being April, July or even October 2013. The latest breach of promise is when employers categorised as Small Medium Enterprises(SME) were allowed to delay payment of minimum wages to their migrant workers until December 2013.

There really is no justification for allowing medium enterprises that are defined as businesses having a ‘sales turnover between RM10 million and RM25million or having between 51 and 150 full-time employees’, that also falls within the definition of SMEs, any delay in paying their workers, including migrant workers, minimum wages as of January 2013.

Still no order issued by the minister

Further, it must be pointed out that there is still no order issued by the minister that has been gazetted, and as such these SMEs still have to pay all their workers, including migrant workers minimum wages from January unless they are employers given special exemption vide the Dec 28 order, or they are employers with five or fewer employees.

If workers were already entitled to receive minimum wages in January 2013, it would be wrong to try and extinguish that right by some later gazetted order. Even if there were such an order, which would be blatantly unjust, employers must still pay the minimum wages from January 2013 until such an order comes into being.

In the New Straits Times Report, the National Wages Consultative Council (NWCC) was reported as saying that employers ‘...would be given blanket approval for deductions of levy and cost of accommodation...’, which are matters that are not only beyond the mandate of the NWCC but are also settled by law. 

Permissible wage deductions are explicitly stated, and as an example, for deductions like cost of accommodation, the legal requirement is that there must be a request in writing by the individual employee, and thereafter a special permission of the director-general of Human Resources. If the worker disagrees or do not make such a request, there can be no such wage deduction.

After a migrant worker has agreed to come to Malaysia and work usually for about five years, and/or is already here working here, it is very wrong and unjust to suddenly impose additional and new liabilities on the migrant worker especially when it affects income. Any new liabilities should be imposed only on migrant workers yet to have agreed to come to work in Malaysia.

I urge the Malaysian government, whose 2012 Merdeka Day slogan was ‘Janji Ditepati’ (Promises Kept) to adhere to its promises made to all workers, including migrant workers in Malaysia and ensure that the promised minimum wages are received at the time as promised on July 16, 2012. 

Malaysians believe in justice and equality, and there should be no discrimination of workers by the government. All workers, including migrant workers must be treated equally especially when it comes to wages - including minimum wages.

Senator SYED SHAHIR SYED MOHAMUD is adviser to the National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers.