On the same day as the nation celebrated Labour Day, Malaysia welcomed its first minimum wage for workers in the private sector, according to Agence-France Presse
. Malaysian workers will now earn a minimum monthly wage of 900 ringgit ($297) in peninsula Malaysia and 800 ringgit ($264) in the poorer eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.
The minimum wage will not be applicable for domestic workers, such as gardeners and maids. There is no minimum wage for public sector employees, but the average entry level wage is 900 ringgit ($297) per month.
Although recent government surveys suggest that more than one-third of the nation’s workers earn less than 700 ringgit ($231) a month, some small and medium-sized businesses are worried that this latest economic implementation will hurt their competitiveness.
“The 900 ringgit level is too high for those in small towns and remote villages,” said Malaysian Employers' Federation director Shamsuddin Bardan, who noted that 98 percent of the country’s businesses are small to medium in an interview with the Associated Press
. “It will be a challenge for them to implement. Similarly for Sabah and Sarawak, wages will rise by 40 to 90 per cent. We feel the situation will be better managed if wages are linked to productivity and skills of employees.”
Nonetheless, the prime minister called the minimum wage a “special present” from the federal government to all workers “in our beloved country.”
“The introduction of the minimum wage is a historic moment for Malaysia,” said Razak in a televised address reports the New York Times
. “The lowest-paid will now be guaranteed an income that lifts them out of poverty and helps ensure that they can meet the rising cost of living.”
During a small rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the opposition Socialist Party called the measure by Prime Minister Najib Razak a “satire for the election.” The party also demanded higher wages.
Malaysian Socialists are demanding a minimum wage of 1,500 ringgit ($496) per month with government subsidies. The opposition called the prime minister’s move a “bluff.”