Amid economic downturn, ‘hard life’ minister Saravanan says understands wage earners well

Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan says he understands wage earners well as he came from a ‘hard life’ background where he had to forego pursuit of higher education in his youth to help his widowed mother. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan says he understands wage earners well as he came from a ‘hard life’ background where he had to forego pursuit of higher education in his youth to help his widowed mother. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 ― Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan says he understands Malaysia’s working class very well, having come from a similar “hard life” background where he had to forego pursuit of higher education in his youth to help his widowed mother after his rubber tapper father died.

In an interview with The Star published today, the 52-year-old recounted a tough childhood following the death of his father had been the family’s sole breadwinner, but said his experiences have enabled him to understand workers and driven him to help jobseekers find employment in the current economic climate.

“I came from a hard life. I understand the wage earners well. My father was a rubber tapper and when he passed away, I had to take care of my family as I was the only son. My mum was a housewife. We suffered great financial difficulties at our Jalan Raja Muda home in KL.

“All my hopes of furthering my studies were dashed. I had to work and study part-time and you know that’s not easy,” he told the daily.

According to The Star, Saravanan was a school prefect and president of the Indian Youth Club at SMK Jalan Temerloh, but he had to work and eventually became an administrative clerk at Maika Holdings at political party MIC’s headquarters.

He also reportedly had a stint as a policeman before becoming a politician.

Saravanan, who is now MIC deputy president and was appointed as human resources minister in March, described his ministerial post as a “hot seat”.

“The human resources minister’s post has been unnecessarily politicised in the past. I don’t want all that. No one should play with the welfare of the Malaysian workers,” he said.

As someone from a minority ethnicity, Saravanan claimed to have been under greater scrutiny  by his colleagues with small mistakes likely to be amplified and having to be twice as good for his work to be recognised.

As such, he said in the interview that others will evaluate him based on his ministry’s merits.

“I want to be judged for the ministry’s achievements, especially acts of service and standards of excellence as part of their job,” he told The Star.

Saravanan also touched on his hiring of non-MIC members as his aides, including his political secretary Khamarulazlan Mohamad Hanafiah, former TV3 reporter and his press secretary Norshafawati Wahid who he said speaks excellent Mandarian and Cantonese. He noted that he had also appointed Malays and Chinese to advisory posts in the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), while noting that its CEO Shahul Hameed Dawood is Indian Muslim and not an MIC member.

“At the end of the day, we are all Malaysians,” he said.

Saravanan told The Star that he tries his best to answer all of the 800 to 1,000 text messages that he gets daily on his two mobile phones, noting the current situation where Malaysians were more concerned with sustaining their livelihood instead of politics or general elections.

“This is a tough time for all Malaysian workers as they either get retrenched, have their pay cut and most are feeling very insecure. I don’t blame the employers as they are also struggling. Nobody wants to let their staff go or worse, to close shop,” he said.

In the same interview, he spoke about the Penjana HRDF initiative launched in June which focuses on reskilling and upskilling to improve the employability of those who are unemployed.

Saravanan said that his ministry has helped get 15,215 job seekers employed and is expected to meet the target of 40,000 employed by this December, noting: “It has not been an easy task as many employers did not want to commit to hiring jobless or retrenched workers. I called them up personally to get them committed.”

Saravanan also reportedly spoke about his talks with HRDF CEO Shahul on training for those who have completed their studies, highlighting the importance of training to improve marketability as paper qualifications are no longer sufficient and also noting that training alone would not be adequate if those trained do not get a job subsequently.

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