KUALA LUMPUR - Tens of thousands of Malaysian civil servants are up in arms over a government plan to trim the allowances of new hires, a move that would reduce their take home pay by as much as 15 per cent.
More than 85,000 Malaysians have signed an online petition within days, to ask the government to drop the plan which would mostly affect healthcare professionals and is coming into effect next week, on Jan 1.
Apart from those in healthcare, a total of 33 professions such as government architects and legal officers will see their allowances removed, as will entertainment allowances to private secretaries, and English proficiency incentives.
Senior government MP Anwar Ibrahim and two Cabinet ministers added to the unhappy voices, and to the confusion, as the move to snip the allowances was approved by a special Cabinet committee and okayed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The Public Service Department (JPA), which oversees the civil service, is implementing the move to help the cash-strapped Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
The petition, which was launched by the Malaysian Medical Association on Christmas eve, says: "Already faced with bleak career prospects and little chance for permanent positions, this decrease of nearly 15 per cent of a newly graduated doctor, nurse, pharmacist and dentist's pay is a significant one."
It adds: "While we support prudence and ensuring a leaner civil service, this should never come at the expense of the critical areas for the development of the country, namely health and education."
The Malayan Nurses Union too wants the JPA to review its decision and asked that a consultation be made prior to introducing such cuts.
Its president, Nor Hayati Abd Rashid, told Malaysiakini online news that the cut would create a "double standard" in government as it would only affect new hires, and this would eventually cause resignations.
"We will lose our nurses," she said, adding that the incentive was initially introduced to retain talent.
Most of the 1.71 million civil servants are Malays, thus piling pressure on the ruling coalition which has been trying to wean Malay voters away from the Malay opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
Former premier and senior Umno leader Najib Razak posted on his Facebook on Thursday (Dec 26) an online news report that asked why PH Cabinet ministers were voicing their unhappiness when a Cabinet committee and Tun Mahathir had okayed the cuts.
A government circular announcing the allowance cuts was issued on Dec 20, listing nine items to be terminated as benefits. Among them is the Critical Services Incentive Payment, which provides allowance for professionals including those from the medical sector.
The new regulation only affects new employees of the service from next year.
The benefits involve a five per cent allowance on top of monthly salaries for those in the management and professional category.
Healthcare professionals such as doctors, pharmacists and lecturers get a fixed allowance of RM750 (S$245) while those in administrative roles qualify too.
The allowances range from five to 15 per cent of the individual's salary.
Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said he promised to raise the issue in Cabinet "again".
"I will monitor the developments of this matter. Each ministry's needs are different and this should be brought to Cabinet again," he tweeted on Thursday.
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman lambasted the move on Twitter.
"We should review all the allowances given to politicians, ministers," he said, offering as an alternative of budget cuts.
"We should not wrong our young doctors, nurses and those in critical services. They're already heavily overworked and underpaid. I dont agree with this circular as it impacts many youths in civil service," he added.
Datuk Seri Anwar urged the Cabinet to discuss the issue in its first meeting next year.
"The government should take into account the anxiety and worry that has been brought up by the people," he said in a statement on Thursday (Dec 26).