© The Malaysian Insight (used by permission)
by Raevathi Supramaniam
21 May 2022
SETTING a minimum wage for pupils in chambers may be counter-productive as it does not take into consideration the financial capacity of smaller law firms, Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah said.
She said that allowances between smaller and bigger states may differ due to varying costs of living.
“We need to take a step back and be circumspect when approaching this issue,” Cheah said in an interview.
“I believe that setting a minimum allowance for pupils may be counterproductive, in so far as the smaller firms are concerned.
“The other problem we will see is that the minimum allowance in Kuala Lumpur will be very different from Kelantan or Terengganu.
In March, a motion seeking to compel legal firms to pay pupils a minimum allowance of RM1,200 was shot down at the Bar’s annual general meeting (AGM).
Young lawyers had wanted the Bar to compel masters to pay lawyers in training in accordance with the current minimum wage. However, pupils are not classified as employees under the Employment Act.
Cheah said most medium-to-large firms, which make up 20% to 25% of law firms in the country, would have most likely fulfilled the minimum allowance.
The minimum allowance may also indirectly affect pupils in smaller towns and states as they may find themselves without a master, with smaller firms unable to afford such a high allowance, she said.
“We need to be mindful that there needs to be a balance. Pupils need law firms to chamber in and if we set the scale too high, they may not be able to find a place to chamber in.”
The issue is a long-standing one in the legal fraternity. In recent times, young lawyers have been vocal about the issue and a petition on the matter was also submitted to the Bar’s committee on young lawyers and pupils last year.
The motion that was rejected at the Bar’s AGM in March was also submitted by a young lawyer and seconded by a few other peers.
The Bar is now in the midst of implementing the minimum wage in accordance to a resolution passed at its last AGM.
“To this end, the Bar has submitted to the Attorney-General’s Chambers an amendment to section 77 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 in order to provide the Bar with the power to implement minimum wage and guidelines within the legal profession,” she said.
A circular was sent to members in March, Cheah said.
She added that the Bar would need find other solutions to assist small firms to raise their economic scale to be able to afford the minimum wage. – May 21, 2022.