This evening I was at a local fruit vendor’s stall and happened to overhear another customer, a young woman, with a child nearby, speaking in Tamil into her cellphone: “I was planning to buy this fruit,” she said, “but when I saw the vela (price), I couldn’t.”
“Waira eriya” (my stomach started smarting/burning), she added with a sigh.
A bit dramatic, but this snippet of conversation illustrates how higher food prices are hurting many workers and their families while the Umnoputras and the top 5 per cent are so out of touch they don’t realise this.
Poor poor economic management (including little attention given to food security), a regressive taxation system including the GST, the removal of subsidies, high household debt, stagnant wages, and massive corruption in the country have left many ordinary people feeling the squeeze.
But let’s not overlook the fact that our corporate-led economic system and neoliberal economic policies, linked to the global model, are also responsible for this state of affairs. These have squeezed workers’ budgets, widened income inequalities and enriched wealthy corporations and financial institutions.
So it is not just us: workers in other nations are also feeling the strain. The other day, an Australian friend of mine who lives near Melbourne sent in this report:
Anyway, what you are saying about property prices and consumer spending is what is happening here. There has been generally no real increase in wages for five or more years now. (In some places, wages are decreasing.) Electricity, gas and water charges have increased so much. Food and the rest of life is also inflating ++ Private property has gone through the roof (so to speak).
They blame overseas investors, superannuation funds and us older people who have discovered property speculation. The median house price in Melbourne has topped A$800k; in the country it is about $350k. Retail is suffering; many are buying (have to) food rather than junk luxury items.
The local mall in our little town has seven shops working and about 10 I think are empty. The owners have been trying to sell it for some three years now. The management of the larger mall in the area doubled the rents about 18 months ago and many walked. However their places have mostly been taken up.
Unemployment bad in our local area here – about 10% all over, with 25% what they call youth unemployment. The government is still working for big business.
Doesn’t that sound uncannily familiar?
Indeed, youth unemployment over here too is creeping up to worrying levels. According to a Pakatan Harapan press statement to mark Workers’ Day:
Pengangguran anak muda di Malaysia dianggar mencecah 10.7% pada 2015, iaitu lebih tiga kali ganda pengangguran di peringkat nasional iaitu 3.1%;
Anak muda merupakan separuh dari jumlah pekerja yang menganggur, walaupun mereka merupakan satu pertiga jumlah tenaga kerja di negara kita;
Kadar pengangguran pada 2015 di kalangan mereka yang mendapat pengajian tinggi adalah 15.3% dan 9.8% bagi mereka yang tiada pengajian tinggi;
Dari segi pendapatan, 54% graduan menerima gaji kurang dari RM2,000 sebulan. Gaji permulaan bagi graduan masih kekal sama sejak 2007.
Things have reached such a state that 113 civil society groups and political parties have supported a Workers’ Day Declaration calling for the setting up of a Workers Retrenchment Fund. They also want an increase in the minimum wage to RM1,500 per month, among other demands.