KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak promised to raise workers' minimum wage by 50 per cent to RM1,500 (US$382) in 2018 if Barisan Nasional, the coalition party led by him, wins the election next week.
Mr Najib was speaking on Tuesday (May 1) at a Labour Day rally at Merdeka Hall at the Putra World Trade Centre.
The minimum wage was meant to be gradually raised over five years, according to Barisan Nasional's manifesto unveiled by Mr Najib last month.
The minimum wage policy, first introduced during his tenure in 2012, was last raised in 2016 to RM1,000 for West Malaysia and RM920 for Sabah and Sarawak.
“You don’t have to wait 22 years for this special gift from the federal government,“ said Mr Najib, in an obvious snub at his former mentor-turned-enemy Dr Mahathir Mohamad who ruled the country from 1980 to 2002.
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Apart from 50 per cent hike in minimum pay, Mr Najib promised to increase maternal leave for women from 60 to 90 days, with three days off for their husbands.
To better protect workers welfare, he also promised to expand insurance coverage to all 14 million workers in the country, including the 2.5 million self-employed workers, such as taxi and Grab car drivers, as well as farmers and fishermen.
While his promises were much welcomed by the workers unions who were given special grants, the Malaysian Employers Federation is still cautious because plantation and manufacturing industries rely heavily on migrant workers.
“It will have an impact on the cost of doing business, no doubt. Especially to the plantation industry that hires mostly foreign workers,“ said the vice president of the Malaysian Employers Federation, Michael Chiam.
The hotel industry will also be affected because of the different pay system whereby their basic wage is low.
The opposition, Pakatan Harapan, has also promised to introduce a minimum living wage of RM1,500 in their manifesto.
The annual report released in March by the Malaysian central bank found an acceptable minimum wage for a single adult living in the city of Kuala Lumpur to be around RM2,700, RM4,500 for a couple without children and RM6,500 for those with children.
This general election, Malaysia's 14th, is arguably the toughest faced by Mr Najib's undefeated coalition.
Besides the challenge from the 92-year-old Dr Mahathir, Mr Najib is also grappling with a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and anger over rising living costs.
Barisan Nasional is widely expected to retain power, but a weaker majority in the 222-seat parliament could leave Mr Najib open to an internal leadership challenge.