Yesterday evening, as I was driving home from dinner with my wife, we saw two touching scenarios; the first, a blind man trying to make his way on a busy road to go to the safer inner road. He was shabbily-clothes but very strong-willed. We stopped our car and offered to ferry him, but he refused, so I led him into the inner road for him to continue his journey.
The second scenario, I caught a glimpse of two kids playing near a public garbage bin, so I asked me wife to take a look and see what those kids were doing there. It turned out that hidden from my sight was someone, presumably their father, was salvaging items from the garbage bin.
With more than 50% of Penang’s population spread across Seberang Perai and having more pockets of rural areas unreachable by the wealth of industrialisation, I am more determined than ever to campaign for pro-jobs policy in the local government. In the past decade, the municipal council of Seberang Perai has been privatising its services due to various reasons, including lack of resources, management issues etc. In Malaysia, government privatisation policy does not deal with the social responsibility of the government towards the employees of its contractors. In the municipal council, I have received reports that jobs such as garbage collections and general cleaning works were given to migrant workers by our contractors, and at a very very low pay.
I am pushing for a policy within the council to implement contractual terms with private contractors to give job priority to local residents of the municipality and at a reasonable minimum wage. We have about a thousand low paying jobs contracted to our contractors (who eventually may hire migrant workers at ridiculously low wage) and if we can ensure that these jobs can first go to locals, then the local government is creating a wave of employment opportunities at the bottom rung which may substantially affect local socio-economy dynamics.
Officials of the municipal council are already reviewing my proposal and even before anything, there are already complains about the heavy financial implications. But my stance is that the council should not shortchange its workers, nor indirectly allow its contractors to shortchange their workers. Workers’ welfare is a government obligation. And to create employment opportunities is the duty of the government. Thus, spending tax money on jobs and in ensuring quality service-delivery should not be seen as wasteful.
I hope that in the next few months, this proposal will be firmed up and accepted by my fellow councillors. After all, the Chief Minister of Penang has declared many times that the Penang State Government is pro growth, pro jobs and pro poor.