Unemployment in Malaysia: DAP calls for a new government department specially to look after mass retrenchment cases

Speech by DAP Organising Secretary, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the general meeting of the DAP Labour Bureau general meeting in Kuala Lumpur, 63-D Jalan Sultan, February 9, 1969 at 9 a.m.

Last month, when the Ipoh Municipal Council wanted to fill 21 vacancies for labourers, over 2,000 people jammed the Municipal Padang for the posts.

Later in the month, when a new hotel in Kuala Lumpur advertised for 110 vacancies for waiters, receptionists, cashiers, bellboys and supervisors, over 4,500 people, including 3,000 School Certificate holders, applied for the positions.

These are not exceptional cases. They have become normal occurrences. They illustrate the gravity and seriousness of the rising unemployment problem in Malaysia.

What is shocking is that the Alliance leaders do not seem concerned about this serious unemployment problem.

In October last year, the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman said there was unemployment in Malaysia not because of the lack of jobs, but because people were “so choosy.”

Were the 2,000 people who rushed for the 21 vacancies for labourors choosy? Were the 4,500 people who applied for the 110 jobs to become waiters, bellboys, receptionists choosy?

Of course, if the Alliance leaders succeed in convincing themselves that there is no unemployment problem in Malaysia, except the problem of ‘choosiness’, then Alliance leaders can concentrate on their pleasures, luxuries and fun with a free conscience – when hundreds of thousands of unemployed in the country are sentenced to a life imprisonment of poverty and social disgrace.

The Alliance government is deliberately trying to hide the truth of the rising unemployment problem from the people for fear of unpopular reaction from the public.

This is why all that the Finance Minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin, said in his recent budget speech about unemployment was: “Although the Malaysian economy expanded in 1968, the indications are that there was some deterioration in the unemployment situation last year.”

Mr. Tan did not explain how serious was this “some deterioration in the unemployment situation.” Why?

Compared to 1966, when the First Malaysian Plan was launched to create 380,000 new jobs in the next five-years period, the unemployment problem today has dangerously worsened.

This is why the Mid-Term Review of the First Malaysian Plan released by the government last week conspicuously omitted to mention the number of new jobs estimated to have been generated between 1966 – 1968, although it boasted that the Malaysian economy grow by 6.7% per annum, at constant prices, and that real per capita income grew by over 1% per annum, during the period under review.

If the First Malaysia Plan is on schedule, with regard to its objective to create 380,000 new jobs in five years, then from 1966 to 1968, the government should have created 228,000 new jobs.

It is doubtful however whether in these three years, 100,000 new jobs had been created.

When it is remembered that over 100,000 youths enter the labour market every year, this means that in the 1966 0 1968 period, at least 200,000 youths had added to the backlog of unemployed – given a conservative figure. The two figures added together will bring the total of unemployed today to the region of 375,000.

But the problem is even worse than this, for in the last three years, in some major sectors of MALAYSIAN economy, like rubber industry, job opportunities have shrunken, because of mass retrenchments and dismissals.

For instance, in December 1965, there was a total of 262,137 workers in the rubber estates. But by September 1968, this has fallen to 205,330 – retrenchment of over 56,800 workers.

When this figure is added to the 375,000 unemployed today, the total unemployment figure exceeds 400,000!

Contrary to Alliance propaganda, therefore, unemployment in Malaysia has become a grave problem. The Alliance government is not only unable to find jobs for the new job-seekers, it is also unable to safeguard and protect the jobs of present workers.

Retrenchment is looming large as a serious problem for Malaysian workers. There is retrenchment not only in the rubber industry, but also in the commercial sector, where over 500 workers were retrenched as a result of ‘mergers, reorganizations and closures,’ last year alone. More may be retrenched this year.

There is also retrenchment arising from British defence withdrawal, which will affect 30,000 Malaysians by 1971.

It is therefore astounding that the Alliance government has taken a ‘couldn’t-care-loss’ attitude, not only to the unemployment problem, but to the retrenchment problem as well.

The 56,800 work estate workers who were retrenched from 1966 were not given any assistance whatsoever from the Alliance government to find alternative employment, or given land to farm and survive. They were completely left to their own suffering, hardship and misery.

The DAP calls on the Alliance government to discharge its government responsibility to help the retrenched and to-be-retrenched workers, either by finding alternative jobs for them, rehabilitating them, or granting land for them to work.

The magnitude of the retrenchment problem facing Malaysian workers deserve special government attention, and I call on the government to establish a new department in the Labour Ministry to deal specially with the problem of retrenchment, whether it be from the rubber industry, commercial sector or British defence establishments.

This department should investigate into every batch of retrenchments, to establish that they are bona fide, secure for the workers a fair and just settlement, and be responsible for finding alternative means of livelihood for them.

The government should also immediately enact a Retrenchment Payments Act in Parliament to protect retrenched workers from getting a raw deal at the hand of the employers, after having served in many cases a whole life of faithful service.

This is an urgent problem, and I hope the government will give it immediate attention.