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KUCHING, Feb 18: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak Division today criticised the state government over a wide range of issues, especially the ’embarrassment’ involving 40 youths from Sarawak who had been duped in Cambodia.
“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.
“It is indeed embarrassing that our youths believe that Cambodia offers better opportunities than Sarawak. It is only in the 70s that up to 2 million Cambodians died due to starvation, overwork and executions under the notorious Pol Pot regime,” MTUC Division secretary Andrew Lo said in a statement.
He said that over the years, tens of thousands of Sarawak youths had been seeking better jobs in Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and in other countries.
“There will always be cases of workers duped by promises of good paying jobs overseas, especially in more economically advanced countries, but Cambodia?”
Lo claimed MTUC had warned over the years that the inward-looking policies of state leaders had driven the state backwards.
“All these years of politics of development have not created any decent jobs in Sarawak. Ten out of 17 poorest districts are in Sarawak.”
On tourism, he said the sector was now a mere joke and had fallen behind Sabah’s.
“Sabah allows foreign investors to develop the tourism projects, while here we have a siege mentality. Why does our once world-renowned Sarawak Museum have to be closed just because we are building a new multi-million ringgit one? A museum is not about the building but about the exhibits and contents.”
Lo added that MTUC had 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?
“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 prioritise the Pan Borneo section at Sematan/Telok Melano? Do we need to open up more and more forests in Tanjong Dato?”
On greater autonomy, Lo said it must mean greater responsibility and accountability.
“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 native customary rights (NCR) land for oil palm, but beachfront land and ex-government quarters demolished for condominiums and commercial shop houses.”
On labour issues, Lo said, it was only after almost 50 years that the hopelessly outdated Sarawak Labour Ordinance was amended to provide basic rights for workers in 2008.
“It has not been amended since as the state government insists that any amendments must have their agreement.
“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 also blamed local timber tycoons for whining that they were unable to pay the same minimum wages compared to employers in West Malaysia.
“It begs to believe that fishermen in Kelantan can afford to pay minimum wages to their crew but Sarawak timber tycoons cannot. All our timber forests and hectares of oil palm plantations do not translate into 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 do nothing about the sharing of the timber wealth, which is controlled by the Big 6 timber companies.”
Lo said these timber companies remained vehemently opposed to the minimum wage.
“Wages in the oil palm and timber (sectors) are among the lowest, while oil and gas (wages) are the highest. Areas like Kapit and the interior, where billions (of ringgit) in timber are extracted over the years, remained the poorest and the most underdeveloped regions of Sarawak.”
Meanwhile, Lo said the priority for the Sarawak government now must focus on improving integrity, reducing corruption and ensuring that wealth is equitably shared with the ordinary people of Sarawak.
“Creation of decent jobs must be the priority. Otherwise, the 40 youths will not be the last to believe that a country like Cambodia offers better opportunities than Sarawak. They may even believe that Myanmar, Bangladesh and Somalia are better.” — DayakDaily