Citizen Nades - Back to night class

MORE than 10 years ago, at a seminar on corruption, there was an impassioned and emotional plea – increase the salaries of mata-mata and those in the lower ranks.

This was supported by an example. A policeman earning RM1,000 could sustain himself if he was serving in a small town like Jeram in Selangor or Malim Nawar in Perak. He could rent a room for less than RM100 and perhaps spend just RM10 daily on food.

But if he was posted to cities like Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh, he wouldn't be able to make ends meet let alone get a room for RM200.

Someone from the floor asked: "How much is enough?"

So, it was suggested that some form of allowance and compensation be drawn up based on the area the policemen are serving.

Last week, the Cuepacs president, Datuk Azih Muda made the same plea on behalf of 400,000 civil servants who are earning as little as RM805 a month.

Most of them are general workers and drivers who only possess a Form Three Assessment Certificate (PMR).

"These employees, who receive minimal salary play a role as the country's implementers, are citizens and assets to the government and nation.

"If these assets are not taken care of, we worry that they would not be able to put their mind and soul to their tasks and enhance their productivity," he was quoted as saying.

It is a frightening scenario. To earn more, they have to upgrade their skills and knowledge but what are the opportunities open to them?

Many years ago, I was invited by the Singapore Institute of Management to speak to students – blue-collar workers who had enrolled for degree courses by attending lectures in the evening.

The government, I was told, was keen in upgrading the knowledge and skills of the workforce to create a competitive workplace instead of relying on foreign talent.

Now, looking at ourselves, what has been done to upgrade the skills of our low-level government servants? No one wants to be a driver all his life and no one wants rubbish collection as a career.

The point is that there must be initiatives to create opportunities for them to upgrade their skills or knowledge.

AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes had this to say on being named by Time magazine in the list of 100 most influential people.

"We have always been about serving the underserved, whether it be through our services and products or giving chances to our staff where we have pilots who used to be purchasing assistants, department heads who started as baggage handlers and flight attendants who used to be administrative assistants."

Tony and his group of companies provided the passage for their staff to seek excellence through a self-motivated learning process to move up the ladder.

What opportunities are there for civil servants? Yes, senior officers get scholarships and grants to do their masters or PhDs but those in the lower rungs are completely cut off.

Shouldn't the driver be encouraged and funded to take up a course in plumbing or the rubbish collector a course to be a qualified wireman or a certified welder?

There are enough colleges and institutions that offer vocational courses. It is for the government to persuade them to conduct courses over weekends or in the evenings where these low-earners can learn a skill or trade.

With so much being pumped into the education system, the government can set aside some money for grants or loans to undertake such courses.

Surely, this is not asking too much from the country's biggest employer for the benefit and improvement of its own staff.

There have been isolated cases of technicians and ordinary clerks in the civil service making it good in the field of business with their acumen and knowledge.

What is immediately needed is a concerted effort to create even more such entrepreneurs.

R. Nadeswaran now understands why there are so many civil servants taking second jobs at night including driving taxis. Comments: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com