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To Be or To Not Be Grateful With Minimum Wage?

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Written By: Kanessha A/P Rama Krishnan

Edited By: Vijayabalan A/L Krishnan

Fresh graduates and salary issues. What’s new? The latest remarks on the topic by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Economic Affairs, Dato’ Seri Mustapa bin Mohamed has gotten him severe backlash as he has stated that ‘ Graduates should be grateful if they get a job even with a lower salary amid a struggling economy ’, as reported by Malaysiakini. The statement was made during a media conference at the University Malaysia Kelantan on the 4th of April, 2021. Just as we thought that was the only statement that didn’t go well with netizens, statements given by Human Resources Minister, Datuk Seri M.Saravanan on the following day did not sit well with the people either.

“We never change the minimum salary (of RM1,200) but in this situation, there are employers who offer jobs to the unemployed” as well as, “I suggest that we accept the offered salary instead of being unemployed,” were said by the minister in a news conference after attending the Malaysia Prihatin Programme as reported by MalayMail.

Despite the various reactions expressed by the public, their response towards the issue was similar if not exact and that was the economic downturn that has occurred due to the pandemic. Dato’ Seri Mustapa has stated that it is highly due to the nation’s economy going down by 5.6% in 2020 that has resulted in the inability for companies to pay their employees during the pandemic.

However, the same cannot be said for the significant decline in the fresh graduates’ salaries throughout the past 8 years, according to Bank Negara Malaysia’s Economic Development Report 2010-2018, quoted by the Senior Lecturer of Business and Management from UITM Sarawak, Dr. Nurhani Aba Ibrahim during an interview with Astro Awani last week.

Dr. Nurhani also added that the decline in fresh graduates’ salaries might have more to do with the job mismatching with graduate's skills more than the economic downturn itself. She believes that the mismatching of jobs with highly skilled graduates in different fields have a direct relation to the lesser pay that fresh graduates are often experiencing these days and has little to do with the pandemic itself, which is only a mere catalyst that has caused further decline to our economy. The senior lecturer also added that the minimum wage salary would be a root cause to a lot of problems if left untreated. Among them would be poverty, discouragement among students from entering the workforce at all as well as an increase in the assortment of social ills.

Both ministers faced severe backlash from Malaysian netizens due to a variety of reasons, especially one being the apparent difference of salaries between ministers who are primarily government employees and the Malaysian fresh graduates who are advised to ‘be grateful’ over lesser than minimum wage salaries. The stark difference has shocked and appalled fellow Malaysians as well as triggered the question of what is really being done by government organisations and what can be done in order to curb the ever-growing unemployment especially during trying times like these.

Currently, government organisations have been taking initiatives towards helping undergraduates to ensure that they are paid fairly. One of the prime examples would be the implementation of mandatory internship allowance in all ministries and government sectors as well as the PENJANA initiative that provides incentives for hiring more employees. Through an interview with Astro Awani, the Executive Director of Malaysian Employers Federation, Datuk Haji Shamsuddin advises undergraduates to not fret at the sight of minimum wage as it is merely the entry-level salary and would be increased in a reasonable amount of time as students get more experience in the workforce.

Though in a step in the right direction, government agencies and ministries should be working together on solving the root problems that prevent graduates from being employed or being paid salaries that do not measure up to one’s skill and qualifications. One of the major root problems being the mismatch of jobs according to the skill and qualification of undergraduate students. Government agencies and ministries can bring forth projects that would benefit from the various skills and knowledge of undergraduates from multiple disciplines of study. Another effective way that can help with curbing the unemployment issue is to prepare universities with programs to help students to adapt to the workforce and thrive in a work setting with a multitude of skills that can help students become more employable individuals. The goal is to ensure the adaptability of undergraduates towards ever-changing market demands for employees in order to ensure a brighter future for the Malaysian people.

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