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Manual Labour in Malaysia is Too Cheap!

I have come to the conclusion that manual labour is way too cheap in this country.

If you didn’t know, I am currently renovating my own office. It’s been really fun, but at the same time, tiring as hell.

Manual Labour Renovation

Mostly doing it alone, I have been going in almost everyday for the past 4 weeks. I started out with paint the walls. Then I cleaned the floors, and now I am laying down vinyl. My back is killing me. My back hurts so bad, I can barely stand. Hands hurt. Knees hurt. Feet hurt. Today, I started thinking about people who do this every day, year on year.

Manual Labour Hurts – So Why Do We Pay So Little?

I am a bit sad thinking about this. I actually like doing this renovation because I think it is fun and I’ve always loved working with my hands. However, I can’t make a living off this. Imagine paying someone RM 100 / day for manual work. Working 26 days, I will only get RM 2,600. Is that a lot? Well, let’s break it down –

  • Home – RM 1,000 / month
  • Car Payment – RM 500 / month
  • Food for Family – RM 1,200 / month
  • Insurance for Family – RM 500 / month

I’ve already broken the bank with just this. And to be honest, my personal monthly commitments are at least 4x higher than this. As much as I try to cut down on things – even if I don’t spend money on myself to buy any toys or items not of leisure – I’m still spending over RM 7,000 including some loan repayments I have to make.

Let’s look at some of my bills for May 2021

  • Insurance – RM 550
  • Service for Apartment – RM 390
  • My half of Apartment Payment – RM 460
  • DBKL Tax – RM 258
  • Internet – RM 100
  • Electricity – RM 275
  • Google – RM 200
  • Cleaner – RM 625
  • Loan – RM 2,192

TOTAL = RM 5,050 – BEFORE Food, Gas, and incidentals! To just cover this, I would need to make RM 210 per day for 24 days a month.

CAN PEOPLE LIVE OFF RM100 A DAY?

Of course you can. You can share a room and pay RM 150 a month. You can ride a bike a do so much more. But is that actually LIVING?

I’ve always believed that your pay should be equal to a good day of work. But why is manual labour so under valued? I honestly believe that a lot of the people who earn over RM 15,000 a month have never even picked up a hammer before. They don’t understand how physically painful it is to do jobs like this. And like athletes, your body will give in after a while. People doing manual labour cannot do it forever.

WHY AREN’T THERE MORE LOCALS DOING THIS?

Again, this is such a noble career path. People should be able to afford the insurance coverage they need, good food, a good house, and the ability to send their children to a good school. Why is it that the ability of using a computer to make a video lands me 8-20 times more per day than holding a hammer? Why is it that someone who literally talks all the time, comes up with bad ideas for TV series and makes powerpoint proposals all day get paid so much more than the person fixing your pipe?

Foreign workers are used because they get more money here than in their home country. So we take advantage of the bad socio-economic position a society is in so that we can afford cheaper labour? And these people live in cramped quarters with other workers, eat crap food just to be able to have enough money to send home.

NO WONDER WE DON’T PURSUE MANUAL LABOUR

I feel like there’s a stigma to manual labour – it means you are not good enough to do anything else. You become a handy man because you couldn’t make it as an accountant (which, honestly, is all made up anyways. All the rules and calculations are based on things people said but it doesn’t really matter. What’s the point of depreciation? To make your books look better? Isn’t that just a lie?)

PAY PEOPLE RIGHT

I had my air conditioners installed for RM 2,355 the other day. Apparently the copper pipping is expensive. But honestly, watching them work, I have to say, it was worth the money. 5 people came in to move 3 units. And they did it so well, and fixed everything perfectly. They came on time, handled everything from A – Z. Like wow. It was expensive and it hurt my bank account, yes. But for the amount of work they did (roughly 5.5 hours) – It makes sense.

Even the electrician, which will probably cost RM 1,200, came for 2 days. The switch and all is probably 1/6 of the cost, the rest is manual labour. That makes sense.

NO PATIENCE FOR NON-PROFESSIONAL MANUAL LABOUR

On the other hand, I hate the waste disposal service that I encountered. Yesterday, he said he will come at 11 am. Generally, if you say you are coming, I won’t call and ask.

At 12pm, he messages and says ‘afternoon can?’. To be honest, if it was 9am and you told me, I would say fine. But since you waited till 1 hour after you were suppose to come – NO. I told him thank you, I will find someone else. Because what he did is unprofessional and disrespect of my time. If you want me to pay RM 350 to take out 6 rolls of carpets (it would take 30 mins to load into the truck), then you better be professional.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered people like this. It’s like – RM 350 is not enough, so I’m just going to do whatever I want to do and get to you when I do. If he was getting RM 900, I’m sure he wouldn’t be like this. At the same time, I didn’t negotiate the price. He said RM 350. I agreed. So why you treating me like this? You asked for this price.

PEOPLE GET PAID MORE BY PEOPLE GETTING PAID LESS

It’s no secret – the reason why there’s so many rich people out there is because they take advantage of cheap manual labour. I charge you RM 500, I pay a guy RM 100, and I keep RM 400. That’s why I like video production. Payment is a bit more fair (at least in my company).

This is so unethical and not right. These people pocketing the money have so much free time, so much spare income, so much everything, while the people actually doing the whole job gets paid peanuts and have to live like peasants just to survive. And for those who do try to do manual labour full time – can you really blame them for being shit at their job? Where’s the carrot at the end of the stick? There’s no incentive to be proud and do their job to the best of their abilities. Why use good equipment? Why do a perfect job? It’s not like they are getting paid.

CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, I wish that people could stand up proud and say they are brick layers, or they are electricians – and that these people could drive in Hondas and live in nice places and afford good schools.

Imagine if the top 5% of Malaysia sold off their expensive cars to pay their workers properly. I mean, a Mercedes is RM 500,000 – at RM5,000 / month, you could feed 3 workers for almost 3 years!

Imagine if I could renovate your office for RM 10,000 just on labour cost – I would be the best goddamn handy man you’ve ever seen.

There use to be a joke when I lived in the Netherlands – Plumbers wear black suits and drive up in Jaguars. Just imagine, if we relied less on foreign labour, and paid people properly to do manual labour jobs – just imagine where we could be. We wouldn’t be the richest nation, but we would definitely be a nation that has fought for equal pay amongst every individual, regardless of what they do.

I mean seriously, who decided that 1 person deserves 100 x more than the other?

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DAVID RAFAEL BURI

david@buri.com.my

+60 12 214 2870