Malaysia needs a social security net: The Star

In its editorial on October 11, the paper urges the government to proceed with the bill, with the economy holding well.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Some major schemes and programmes introduced by governments are easy for most people to appreciate and support, and as a result, there is barely any resistance.

Malaysia's proposed Employment Insurance System (EIS) is not one of them.

The EIS Bill was tabled in Parliament on Aug 1 but its second reading was deferred because there was no broad agreement on how much employers and workers should pay to help fund the system.

The Bill specified a contribution rate of one per cent of monthly wages, split evenly between employees and employers, but businesses generally argued that the additional cost was too high.

On Aug 10, the Government, represented by four ministers, met with employer groups and trade unions to "obtain consensus" on the contribution rate.

According to Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem, the tripartite engagement ended with the stakeholders agreeing in principle that the employers and employees will each contribute 0.2 per cent instead of the 0.5 per cent proposed initially.

With that settled, the Cabinet has instructed that the Bill be presented at the next Dewan Rakyat meeting, which begins on Oct 23.

Does this mean everybody is now ready to embrace the EIS? Perhaps not.

At a media briefing yesterday on the EIS, Riot said the employer groups and the trade unions wanted other changes to the Bill, but added that if the Government were to accommodate these demands, "we won't have a workable EIS in the foreseeable future".

The trade unions say it was back in 1989 that they first floated the idea of Malaysian workers receiving unemployment payments. The discussion has withered a few times, usually in the face of the employers' vigorous opposition, but it has been revived in various forms. This time, the draft legislation for the EIS will soon be in the hands of the lawmakers.

There is no going back to the drawing board. Nor will there be yet another repeat of old debates. It is time for action.

The EIS may not be perfect in its current form, but it can be improved as we go along.

The Government is convinced that Malaysia needs a social safety net that will help workers after they lose their jobs, and the time is right for the introduction of the system because our economy is holding well. The EIS is expected to be instrumental in softening the blow of an economic crisis.

It is about ensuring that even during hard times, the unemployed can still put food on the table.

This is how Riot has distilled the importance of the EIS: "If people suffer a loss of employment, they need not worry because the Government will take care of them."

It is a big promise indeed, and the challenge of implementing the system effectively and transparently is equally huge.

But why should anybody stand in the way of the fulfilment of that promise?

The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.