Minimum wage issue remains on back burner

National 4 minutes, 36 seconds


MINIMUM wage seems to be a touchy subject among the public with both government and private sector institutions opting to put it aside rather than deal with it once and for all.

The subject cropped up way back in 2010, changed hands over two ministers and six years later, none seem to be the wiser on this subject.

In April 2015, the Department of Labour said there is no specific law governing minimum wage in Brunei that applies to local or foreign workers, and wages are normally set by mutual agreement (offer and acceptance) between employers and employees.

Meanwhile, Rozan Yunos in his blog The Daily Brunei Resources said that relations between employers and employees in Brunei are generally good with labour disputes being rare, despite there being no minimum wage legislation.

It was previously reported that in the private sector, the most common argument against having a minimum wage is that it might to impede business growth, especially among small enterprises.

A local restaurateur (who wished to remain anonymous) said that costs for him would increase, if his employees qualified for a minimum wage.

“As a small business that does not make much, I would have three choices.

“One, to downsize my business and move to a smaller place; two, to increase my prices; and if increasing prices pushed customers away, my other option would be to close down,” the restaurateur said.

Hazeerah Hj Othman, a private school teacher, said that the development of the country had to be considered, when discussing minimum wage.

“The economic implications could be serious, and the government has to decide if it is willing to bear these implications. If a minimum wage is set at a point where businesses do not see a viable profit because of higher employment costs, they will not invest,” she said.

Hazeerah said all businesses would be more than likely to adapt and push costs onto consumers with higher prices if minimum wage is in place.

“So in this way, society is still affected as a whole,” she said.

To paint a better picture of earnings within the private sector, The Brunei Times interviewed an array of low-income earners — both local and foreign.

A security guard from J-Guard security services company said he and his colleagues were currently earning $500 a month for eight-hour work shifts.

Sometimes, they would work overtime for extra money, which is about two dollars an hour, he said.

“For those who are still single and have no family to support, what we currently earn is fine, and reasonable but for those with families to support, it is not enough.

“They have to pay for the car, fuel, food and clothing for their families and themselves, among other things, so $500 a month is simply not enough for a family breadwinner,” he said.

Bibi, who is an employee at a supermarket in Gadong, said that her monthly pay of $433 was spent primarily on paying for her car and petrol, as well as food.

Although she stays at her parents' house and does not have to spend any of her monthly income on housing expenses, the sales assistant said she still does not have anything left to save at the end of each month.

On the foreign labour side, an Indonesian maid who just wants to be identified as Nurbaya, said that although she likes her job here and her employer is kind, she may not renew her contract in June. She requested for an increase under the new contract for the next two years, but her employer has yet to give a response.

Under her first contract from 2011 to 2013 she received a monthly payment of $280. The employer then raised it to $320 in her second contract. As per her own request, she said, she only collects her salaries every five or six month from her employer. To give example, every five month she will ask for $1,000 or so and sends the money home.

“I don’t send the money every month because I want to save the money used for transaction fee which is required in every time we use the remittance services,” she said.

An Indonesian national labourer at a newly-constructed school said his current daily wage of $18 is just enough for him but would not be enough for a married man.

The 25-year-old spends almost half of his monthly income to support his family in Indonesia while he spends the leftovers for his needs, such as food and toiletries.

He believes local construction workers will struggle if they are working in the construction industry as they will have more responsibilities in the country.

“Minimum wage is important for the locals here because they will have families and other responsibilities so they will need more income, especially for their hard work in supporting their families,” he said.

The necessity for a minimum wage is not really felt in the public sector as its salary packages are set on a pay grade but within the private sector, a defined salary scale could possibly attract more locals to the fore.

In 2014 the Home Affairs ministry’s introduced the ‘Fair package’ paper which addresses the low wages of local employees and differences in benefits packages for local and foreign staff, proposes to balance out the differences.

It was said that local private sector employees will be able to earn and enjoy the same benefits that their foreign counterparts get if stakeholders and employers adapt the paper. To date, very little has been made public to that effect.

The Brunei Times