By Lee Wei Lian
KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — The average wage in the mining sector was more than three times that of the services and manufacturing industry, according to the 2011 Economic Census figures released today.
Workers in the mining sector were on average paid RM7,772 monthly, while the average wage of the services sector was just RM2,126.
The average salary of the manufacturing sector was RM2,040.
The services sector was by far the largest employer overall, with 3,687,787 employees, followed by manufacturing at 1,812,360 and construction with 974,488.
The number of mining sector employees was only 32,216.
The seemingly low average wages of the non-mining sectors were representative of the amount of catching up the nation has to do in order to escape the middle-income trap and achieve high income economy status.
Wages in the manufacturing and services sector of less than RM2,150, or only about US$700 a month, is far below those in comparable sectors in advanced economies such as US and Singapore.
Malaysia, which is trying to move up the economic value chain, suffers from a damaging brain drain in part due to its low salaries and is also often overlooked by expatriate knowledge workers who prefer to base themselves in Hong Kong or Singapore, where the wages are similar to western countries.
Critics blame a variety of factors for the relatively low wages here, including the quality of education and job opportunities as well as the ease of entry of foreign labour, which they say helps depress wages.
The country’s undervalued ringgit, which is used as a competitive advantage for exporters, also worsens the wage situation when compared with advanced economies with strong currencies such as Singapore and Australia.
The government recently introduced a minimum wage policy but it remains to be seen if it will be effective in restructuring wages without raising unemployment.
The 2011 Economic Census, which was prepared by the Statistics Department, will be used for formulation of government policies as well as general research purposes.
It found that in 2010 there were 662,939 establishments undertaking business activities in Malaysia, of which 89.2 per cent were in the services sector.
Six per cent of businesses were involved in manufacturing, 3.3 per cent in construction, 1.3 per cent in agriculture and 0.06 per cent in mining.
The companies generated a total production of goods and services of RM707.5 billion, of which services accounted for 52.5 per cent, followed by manufacturing at 24 per cent and mining at 12.5 per cent.
Women-owned enterprises comprised 19.2 per cent of the total number of companies.