KUCHING: The Sarawak government must give priority to the creation of decent jobs to ensure that Sarawakians will be able to find employment opportunities back home.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak Division secretary Andrew Lo said otherwise, the 40 Sarawakians who have just been released from Cambodia prison will not be the last to believe that countries like Cambodia offers better opportunities than Sarawak.
“They may even believe that Myanmar, Bangladesh and Somalia are better,” he said in a press statement yesterday.
MTUC was commenting on the predicament of the 40 Sarawakians who were locked up in Cambodia for being suspected of getting themselves involved in an illegal online gambling ring but are now free following Malaysian and Sarawak government’s efforts to get them released from legal custody of the Cambodian authorities.
“MTUC is not sure what is more embarrassing. The fact that 40 Sarawakian youths are desperate enough to try their luck in countries like Cambodia or the fact that politicians are falling over each other trying to be heroes to welcome them home,” he said.
For years, tens of thousands of Sarawak youths have been seeking better jobs outside Sarawak, in Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and overseas, said Lo.
“There will always be cases of workers duped by promises of good paying jobs overseas, especially more economically advance countries, but Cambodia? It is indeed embarrassing that our youths believe that Cambodia offer better opportunities than Sarawak. It is only in the 70s that up to two million Cambodians died due to starvation, overwork and executions under the notorious Pol Pot regime,” he said.
MTUC has warned over the years that the inward looking policies of our state leaders has driven Sarawakians backwards.
“All these years of the so called politics of development has not created any decent jobs in Sarawak. 10 out of 17 poorest districts are in Sarawak. Our tourism sector is a joke and has fallen behind Sabah. Sabah allows foreign investors to develop the tourism projects while here we have a siege mentality,” Lo said.
“Why does our once world renowned Sarawak museum have to be closed just because we are building a multi million ringgit new one? A Museum is not about the building but about the exhibits and contents.”
MTUC has long been very sceptical of this “Sarawak for Sarawakians” movement and “Sarawak First” policy.
“We believe it is a ruse to grab more wealth for the rich and connected Sarawakians and businesses that will widen income disparity. We have 29 State Ministers and Assistant Ministers, but not a single one is responsible for human resources. Human resources development is key to the progress of the state and Sarawakians.”
“We need to create a skilled workforce, propel human capital development and to address long standing issues on foreign workers, labour productivity, job empowerment, industrial relations and to develop a holistic blueprint of our human capital needs. They blame Putrajaya for lack of development. But is it just the fault of Putrajaya?”
“Is it also safe to say that our state leaders in the past have failed to do their job?,” Lo asked.
“Why did we build the coastal road with so many mega bridges to open up more land for oil palm and ignore the Pan-Borneo highway? Why prioritised the Pan Borneo section at Sematan/Telok Melano? Do we need to open up more and more forests in Tanjong Dato?”
Lo said greater autonomy must mean greater responsibility and accountability, adding that the track record of the state government in matters where we already have full autonomy – land, labour and immigration – does not give any confidence.
“We have so many land-grab issues, not just NCR land for oil palm, but beachfront land and ex-government quarters demolished for condominiums and commercial shop houses?”
On labour, it was only after almost 50 years that the hopelessly outdated Sarawak Labour Ordinance was amended to provide basic rights for workers only in 2008, he said.
It has not been amended since as the state government insist any amendments must have their agreement, he claimed.
The minimum wage was lower in Sarawak simply because employers in the state have been paying much lower wages for the past five decades. It was only this year that the federal government implemented a uniform minimum wage rate for the whole country, Lo said.
“The timber tycoons always whine that they are unable to pay the same minimum ages compared to employers in West Malaysia. It beggars belief that fishermen in Kelantan can afford to pay minimum wages to their crew but Sarawak timber tycoons cannot,” Lo said.
“All our timber forest and hectares of oil palm plantation does not translate in decent jobs so much so that at least 80 per cent of the workforce are foreigners. We want a bigger share of the oil and gas revenue yet does nothing about the sharing of the timber wealth which is controlled by the Big 6 Timber companies. These timber companies remain vehemently opposed to minimum wage. Wages in the oil palm and timber are among the lowest while oil and gas are the highest,” Lo claimed.
He also claimed that areas like Kapit and the interior, where billions of timber have been extracted over the years, remained the poorest and the most under developed regions of Sarawak.
“Our state-controlled immigration is only effective in picking up and deporting PH MPs and Menteries Besar but seems to let in tens of thousands of illegal workers, hawkers and traders, including North Koreans,” he said.
“Therefore, the priority is to improve integrity, reduce corruption and to ensure that wealth is equitably shared with the ordinary people of Sarawak. Creation of decent jobs must be the priority,” he said.