PUTRAJAYA: Estate workers signed a historic deal with plantation owners yesterday, capping a 40-year struggle to receive a guaranteed minimum wage each month.
Under the agreement between the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) and the Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association (Mapa), some 58,000 labourers will now be paid RM350 if their earnings for the month fall below the figure.
The agreement is effective from Jan 1 this year to 2005.
Previously, the workers had to rely solely on income from tapping rubber, based on the yield produced. This was agreed to under a deal signed in 1999 by NUPW and Mapa.
Under the new agreement, the workers can expect an increase of between 8% and 12% in wages compared to the previous deal, as well as increases in other benefits, such as housing and shift allowance.
Discussions between the two sides on the monthly payment had been going on for several years but resurfaced early last year after a deadlock.
At one point, there were even suggestions to refer the negotiations to the Industrial Court, but this was later dropped.
NUPW executive secretary A. Navamukundan said the RM350 monthly guarantee was especially important for tappers working in low-yield estates.
“Sometimes, a tapper can get up to over RM1,000 a month if the trees in his estate are young and the yield of latex is high. But if the trees are old and have a low yield, they may get very little income,” he said.
He added that the payment represented an achievement for the union.
Mapa president Datuk Dr Mohd Noor Ismail said the agreement with NUPW was also expected to be adopted in estates of non-Mapa members.
“These estates normally follow the wage rates signed between Mapa and NUPW.
“This means that the number of estate employees benefiting from this agreement, either directly or indirectly, is estimated to be about 80,000,” he said, urging workers to improve productivity to commensurate with the increase in wages.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said as a result of the wage revision, Mapa would pay out about RM145mil to the workers during the tenure of the agreement.
“Mapa has also decided to issue an ex-gratia payment of RM140 per month for every worker for the period between Jan 1 and Dec 31 last year, amounting to some RM34mil.
“Now that Mapa has conceded to these payments, it is the responsibility of NUPW to ensure their members abide by the new terms,” he told reporters after witnessing the signing of the agreement at his office here.
He stressed that the RM350 payment was a basic monthly guarantee.
“This sum is only paid to a rubber tapper should his salary fall below RM350 for that month due to circumstances beyond his control, like rainy days or bad weather.
“This is still a productivity-linked system, in that you have to come and report for work.
'This is to cut down on absenteeism among the workers.
Commenting on the planned picket by the MTUC to protest against the low dividend declared by the Employees’ Provident Fund for the year 2002, Dr Fong advised the country’s workforce to put national interest above their dissatisfaction.
Unions rallying workers to protest against the EPF must not split the nation in these difficult times, he said.
He added that the country was already facing an uncertain future arising from both the aftermath of the Iraq war and the still-unabated global outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
“MTUC must look at the larger picture. Right now, it is important to present a united front to the rest of the world.
“There are enough avenues for MTUC to express its concerns without having to resort to picketing.
“Should MTUC want to meet me, I’m more than willing to do so although EPF is not under my purview,” said Dr Fong.