On August 8, I attended a noisy demonstration by trade unionists in Malaysia who were demanding that the government bring in a minimum wage of 900 ringgit (A$300) a month. I had come to the picket with a group of some of the country's lowest-paid workers — rubber-plantation workers whose ancestors had been brought from India generations ago by the former British colonial rulers as indentured labourers.
Until four years ago, they were earning less than $100 a month. Today most rubber-tappers still earn a fraction of the minimum wage demanded by the Malaysian Trade Union Congress.
After initially agreeing to bring in a minimum wage bill, the Malaysian government changed its mind, citing the US and Australia as examples of rich countries that do not have a minimum wage! That's ahead of reality in Australia, but it's where the Howard government's "Work Choices" laws lead us.
The Malaysian government then introduced new laws to cut workers' rights and restrict union organisation.
However, Australia's bad example for Malaysia does not end there. Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, a physician and the Socialist Party of Malaysia's candidate for the state seat in the Sungei Siput area where I visited the group of plantation workers, told me that Australia was also being used as a "model" for the Malaysian government's push to privatise more of the public health system. Indeed, an Australian consultant crafted the government's health privatisation plan.
Green Left Weekly has a duty to expose this unhealthy example that the Howard government is setting. We've got to do what Mike Moore has done so effectively with his documentary Sicko.
Actually, GLW premiere nights for Sicko helped boost our Fighting Fund by $6036 since the last issue. This brings the total our supporters have raised this year to $136,005 or 54% of our 2007 target of $250,000.
You can join our campaign against Australia's bad example by making a donation to the GLW Fighting Fund at: Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 901992. Alternatively, send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007, phone it through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia), or donate online at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php.