Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MALAYSIA:::Can you survive on minimum wage in M’sia?

Living on less than RM1000 a month is tricky business indeed so in the interest of curiosity, this article will attempt to look into the lives of minimum wage workers to determine how they survive in Malaysia.
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There has been and will continue to be a lot of talk about minimum wage recently due to the enforcement of the new ruling in January 2014. The minimum monthly income was set at RM900 for peninsular Malaysia and RM800 for east Malaysia.
The announcement has been met with mixed reviews thus far, with several Malaysians arguing that the amount is insufficient, considering the recent surge in the cost of living. Conversely, some Malaysians feel that the law decreases the competitiveness of the nation’s industries while doing more to benefit foreign laborers rather than locals. Some business heads also lamented that it would in turn force them to raise prices even more.

Whichever side you’re on, the minimum wage law is here to stay (for now) and nothing’s going to change that. Living on less than RM1000 a month is tricky business indeed so in the interest of curiosity, this article will attempt to look into the lives of minimum wage workers to determine how they survive in Malaysia.
Survive NOT thrive
In case you didn’t already know, earning minimum wage literally means that in terms of pay, you’re at the very bottom of the food chain. Minimum wage workers form the backbone of society within Malaysia. They do menial jobs that most Malaysians often take for granted such as cleaning tables at food courts, washing toilets and manning the multitude of factory assembly lines across the nation. If all of them packed up and quit overnight, then life in Malaysia would come to a virtual standstill.
While most Malaysians would gasp at the thought of being stuck with such a meager salary each month, they’ll be surprised to know that many people (even in the Klang Valley) live their daily lives on such wages. Living on such a tight budget certainly does not leave room for much entertainment so while our minimum wage workers might be able to survive, they definitely do not thrive.
low cost
Certain minimum wage workers such as those in the construction industry are provided complimentary lodging in addition to their salary. Suffice to say, lodging is far from comfortable but contrary to paying rent, free housing sounds a lot more attractive. Unfortunately for most minimum wage workers, not every industry provides such a “luxury”, leaving many to fend for themselves. With that in mind, can the minimum wage worker find affordable housing in today’s market?
Scouring around local rental advertisement sites, room rentals for as low as RM200 a month were found in places within the Klang Valley such as Wangsa Maju, Cheras and Puchong, though the condition of such locations remain in question. In addition, such rentals are usually in fairly secluded regions, making transportation a major issue. Outside the Klang Valley, the cheaper room rental prices in places such as Penang, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching generally hovered around this amount as well.
Despite the monthly rental price of RM200 per month being the absolute lowest on the market, few minimum wage earners would consider such a cost as a feasible option. With that in mind, renting a room independently essentially becomes a see-saw decision of housing versus food for our minimum wage workers. Thus, it appears that splitting the cost of rent and bunking with a friend or co-worker remains the only feasible option.
Certain industries, such as manufacturing do provide scheduled pick-ups for workers from predetermined locations, thus eliminating the burden of transport costs. Unfortunately, just like before, not every sector offers such a “perk”.
This goes without say, unless you own a pre-existing hand me down car or motorcycle, buying any vehicle while earning minimum wage is entirely impossible. In fact, with petrol costs soaring to around RM2.10-RM2.25 per liter, up keeping a pre-existing vehicle already stands as a pretty tall task for minimum wage earners. With that in mind, the only options left are either taking public transportation, riding a bicycle or walking.
In a perfect world, the two latter options would be possible but in Malaysia, this is rarely the case. Rapid KL monthly bus passes cost RM40 and allow an unlimited number of bus rides for up to 30 days. The inclusion of LRT rides for the entire month brings the total to RM150. Outside the Klang Valley, where public transportation often follows an unorganised schedule with frequent disruptions, this option becomes less reliable and many opt for a motorcycle.
Sushi? Steak? Pizza? While the casual Malaysian might easily take these simple privileges for granted, minimum wage earners enjoy no such luxury in their lives. Factoring in all other costs such as housing and transportation and we are left with around RM400 or less for meals for an entire month which factors out to around RM13.30 per day. So can you survive on RM13.30 per day? On a budget of RM13.30 per day, don’t expect to be getting a nutritional surplus. Imagine eating cheap packets of RM1.80 Nasi Lemak and gouging on value pack white bread on a daily basis. Simple items, such as ordering chicken at the local mamak store have now become a luxury. Hence, while this feat is entirely attainable, as you’ve probably guessed, it’s not living, it’s surviving.
Feasible or impossible?
Living on minimum wage is not an impossible task, in fact, before the implementation of the law, many Malaysians survived on amounts far less than RM900 a month. The real question remains whether this is worthy of being called minimum wage. By definition, minimum wage needs to represent an amount required by a worker to survive and on RM900 in the Klang Valley; workers are barely doing that.
The point of having minimum wage is to ensure workers are at the very least able to attain the basics of survival with their wage and the question to ask ourselves (and policy-makers/employers) is RM900 really able to do that?

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