Thousands of workers across Southeast Asia participated in various Labor Day rallies last Friday: In Cambodia, workers reiterated their petition to raise the monthly minimum wage from 128 US Dollars to 177 US Dollars. In the Philippines, protesters targeted the labor export policy. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, more than 10,000 people joined a protest against the implementation of a new consumer goods tax. And in Singapore, labor unions raised the issue of wage inequality.
Cambodian Workers Demand ‘Living Wage’
There were several protest actions organized by labor groups to press their demand for a living wage of $177. Many of those who joined the rallies were women workers in the garment sector who also declared their opposition to “repressive” draft legislation on labor unions. The protests were peacefully conducted despite the refusal of Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) city officials to grant permission to these activities.
Filipino Workers Target Labor Export Policy
Filipino workers marched near the presidential palace in Manila to campaign for the granting of a national minimum wage. They also urged the government to focus more on creating domestic jobs by stimulating the local economy instead of encouraging people to leave the country. There are already more than 12 million overseas Filipino workers. Many of these workers are abused and some become victims of human trafficking like Mary Jane Veloso, currently jailed in Indonesia for the crime of drug trafficking. Her case revealed the hardships faced by many overseas workers; and it also highlighted the continuing poverty in rural areas which forces people to migrate and seek better opportunities.
Protest Against High Taxes and Political Repression in Malaysia
In Malaysia, more than 10,000 people (organizers claim the size of the rally peaked at 20,000) joined a protest against the government’s decision to charge a higher Goods and Services Tax (GST) despite the economic difficulties experienced by ordinary workers. The GST was implemented last April 1. Protesters said the GST has an inflationary effect which can hurt the poor.
But the rally became another indicator of worsening political repression in the country when the police arrested 36 people for unlawful assembly and sedition. Commenting on the arrest, the watchdog Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism asked: “How are questions related to public accountability and public money, deemed seditious?”
Charles Santiago, a Member of the Parliament, defended the protest:
The increasing cost of living, escalating prices of essential goods, and the GST-linked price increases deal a further blow to the middle and working classes.
The people who took to the streets on Friday did so to bring these pressing issues to the attention of the government so that necessary steps could be taken to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.
Singaporeans Speak Out Against Wage Inequality
Around 400 hundred Singaporeans joined a Labor Day rally in a public park to speak out against wage inequality, media restriction, and the government policy of encouraging the entry of more foreign workers. The organizers also proposed the establishment of a minimum wage system for Singaporean workers. During the conclusion to the event, labor leaders showed solidarity for a teenager who is facing several criminal charges for making a video that criticized the country’s founding prime minister.
— Shah Kyle Malinda (@shahkylemalinda) May 1, 2015