KUALA LUMPUR | The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) urged the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) today to improve the welfare of workers in the country if it wishes to remain in power.

Commenting on the coalition’s defeat in the Tanjung Piai by-election, MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon said addressing matters such as wage levels and spiralling costs would do more that playing racial and religious politics.

“Malaysian workers, particularly the B40 group, have come to regard the government as mostly passive on bread-and-butter issues such as low wages and the high cost of living,” he said in a statement.

Solomon asserted that this was among the reasons for the fall in support for the coalition.

“The answers lie in the growing public, especially workers, where disillusionment has set in with several government leaders who were heavy on rhetoric but offered little in terms of deeds or substance.

“By focusing on the economy of the people, Pakatan will find sustained support from the people of all walks of life and thus unshackle itself from the unproductive and destructive politics of some who want to keep playing the race and religion card,” he said.

Solomon specifically singled out the Human Resources Ministry, and told it to “stop usurping and diluting the roles of MTUC while simultaneously undermining the congress, especially when it supported the new government.”

“It has been a frustrating 18 months in dealing with Pakatan’s human resources minister who amended important labour laws without any meaningful consultations with MTUC, and yet claimed otherwise in Parliament and to the public.

“Without proper consultations with MTUC as the national labour centre and the Malaysian Employers Federation, the minister pushed through these and other amendments in a high-handed manner, which only fanned the anger on the ground against the government,” he said, referring to M. Kulasegaran.

Solomon said these have contributed to widening disconnect between the government and the people, especially the B40 and M40 workers who are mainly employed in factories, plantations, and the services sector.

“We at the MTUC really believe that much of the push back in Tanjung Piai stemmed from the growing perception of many wage earners that government leaders are not interested in their plight, but were busy using their power to outwit political rivals.

“I believe if ministers, backed by the civil service, can go to the ground and sincerely engage workers and the unions which represent them to tackle the root causes of their hardships, Pakatan can reverse the current political tide,” Solomon said.

The by-election on Saturday saw PH lose the Johor parliamentary seat by a landslide of some 15,000 votes for BN’s MCA.