Oct 1, 2015

Lifting Working Women Out Of Poverty


The Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) welcomes the government’s target of 59 percent of women in the workforce by 2020 as stated by the prime minister at the UN this week. Currently women’s participation is at 54 percent. Gaining employment is a crucial step but so is ensuring that these jobs are accessible and give adequate pay.

At SWWS’s recent forum on ‘Women, Jobs and Low Pay’, it was evident that many women who wanted work had difficulty obtaining jobs due to lack of public transport and affordable child care.

“This was made very clear by our speaker Yong Li Na the Director of Affirmative, an employment agency focusing on helping women find work and move away from low paid jobs,” stated Ann Teo, the organising chair.

“In the case studies presented, the lack of public transport curtailed womens’ chances of employment. For instance, one highly populated housing area in Kuching did not even have a bus service - in other areas people reported waiting three hours for a bus.”

Consequently those who find work have to use a big part of their monthly wages for transport costs usually in the form of a monthly fee for private transport to and from place of work. Fortunate ones, who can use a relative’s car or join a car pool will still need to pay for petrol costs. Hence, only by having an affordable, extensive and effective public transport system will more women from poorer households be able to seek employment.

For women in low paid jobs, the cost of child care also takes a big chunk of their income and incurs more transportation costs making it hard for them to live on what is left. Work may only mean moving from hard core poor to the category of poor. To progress beyond that, affordable child care and wages sufficient for basic necessities and comforts needed for an acceptable life, are required.

Although the implementation of the minimum wage has helped, salaries remain low for both women and men.

Andrew Lo, the executive secretary of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak Branch, told the forum participants that the medium monthly wage in Malaysia is only RM1,842 so half of the working population are earning substantially below the average pay stated in 2012 to be around RM5,000. This is connected to the wide disparity in income in Malaysia which is ranked the third highest in Asia, whilst we are ranked the second highest for household debts.

This shows that to effectively address poverty it is not enough just to increase the participation of women in the workforce by 2020. SWWS therefore calls on all relevant parties to tackle the issue of low pay now. It was sad to note that in Yong’s case study a couple who were both working could only afford to buy a much needed fridge when they received Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BRIM).

If Malaysia aspires to be a developed nation surely hard working citizens should earn enough to buy such a basic item.

At the forum the range of programmes initiated by the government was outlined by Bruno Jong, senior assistant director in the Sarawak Labour Department, including 1Azam.

The department also offers a service to those seeking employment so it is important that women looking for work register with them and also report to the department any employers who do not pay them their statutory rights such as the minimum wage and EPF/Socso contributions or break the law by discriminating against women.

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