MALAYSIA celebrates Workers Day today in a sombre mood. As we salute workers for their contributions towards nation-building and our general well-being, we cannot help but be conscious of the immense, looming challenges that will test not only our unity as a nation but also our competitiveness and resilience as a people in a global village where only the fittest survive.
These are difficult times. Regional wars, the latest being the US-led attack on Iraq, continue to erupt on new frontiers. Globalisation brings about not only borderless markets but also financial turbulence and, lest we forget, highly contagious diseases which are exacting a heavy toll on the global economy.
While the war on Iraq may be geographically distant, the danger of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS lurks at every corner and in every human encounter.
More damaging than the Asian financial crisis, more dreadful than the Iraq war, SARS is dealing a crippling blow to the economies of Asia and the South-East Asian region.
The tourism and airline industries are bearing the brunt of SARS, followed by the entertainment and retail businesses, and soon other sectors of the economy may be dragged down.
Unless a vaccine is found to counter the disease or the virus runs out of steam, we may soon face the ugly prospect of pay cuts or, worse, retrenchments as the demand for goods and services falls and businesses crumble.
Being an open economy, Malaysia is vulnerable to all global changes, be they good or bad, and our workers must be adaptable to be competitive.
We must sober up to a new environment that’s constantly changing.
Thus, as we celebrate Workers Day, we have to remind ourselves that we have to change our mindsets, attitudes and even our expectations. This means we must discipline ourselves to be capable of multi-tasking and be innovative, technology-driven and market-competitive.
Even if the Iraq war is settled and SARS contained, we will still have to face other challenges.
How well we cope with such challenges will define our position in the shrinking global village and shape our destiny.
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