Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another way to exploit workers (Free Malaysia Today, 2/11/2011)

Another way to exploit workers

Teoh El Sen | November 2, 2011 
The amendments to the Employment Act will be big business for whoever gets the required licence to operate as contractors for labour, says an activist.


PETALING JAYA: The changes to the Employment Act 1955 are just another guise to exploit workers and to benefit political cronies, lawyer-cum-activist Charles Hector said.

He said that the amendments would promote outsourcing of workers to middlemen but do not offer the workers any protection.

“The amendments have nothing to do with protecting workers. In my opinion, it is something like the APs (approved permits) for vehicles in Malaysia, where permits and licences are allegedly issued to persons connected to those in power politically or economically,” Hector told FMT.

“This will purely be a big money-making business for whoever gets the required licences to operate as contractors for labour.”

Hector said that even now, factories are paying some of these “outsourcing agents” about RM60 per worker on a normal working day, whereas the worker only gets about RM20.

“This means the income for these labour outsourcing companies (also called ‘contractors for labour’) would be about RM40 per worker per day, and we are talking about 1.9 million migrant workers and many million local workers.”

Hector, who had represented 111 civil society groups locally and abroad, called for an immediate withdrawal of the amendments, saying that a total re-look at the law was needed.

“With the way the amendments are being phrased, I think withdrawal is the only solution at this point. Re-tabling an act is not a problem.”

Referring to the Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam’s statement that the ministry had gone through rigorous consultation, he said specific suggestions by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) had been ignored.

“Yes, they may have gone for 18 meetings but were their (MTUC’s) views properly heard?”

Hector likened the new amendments to the Indian “Kangany system”, where a plantation head called a mandore would recruit workers from India and subsequently supervise their work here.

“It’s exactly like the Kangany system. The problem is, these labour suppliers can easily close shop and disappear if anything happens (to the workers),” he said.

“We need to go back to the traditional worker-employer relationship where the employer is responsible for the worker,” said Hector, who is being sued for RM10 million in a defamation case brought by a Japanese company Asahi Kosei against him for a blog posting alleging mistreatment of migrant workers at the company’s facility.

(In the case, Asahi had claimed that the workers are not theirs as they were supplied by an external contractor and that the contractor was responsible for the workers’ wages and welfare.)

“Now they are trying to legalise this… If this continues, one day we might have a bank without employees and all inhouse unions are essentially killed. If the bank employee complains, the bank will simply say ‘oh, I’m not your employer’,” said Hector.

Making agents liable
Hector said if the government insists on going ahead with the amendments, he suggests that outsourcing agents be made as secondary employers as is practised in other countries.

He also said the amendments will not help in dealing with sexual harassment cases.

“Now the employer himself will hold an inquiry rather than Labour Department. How can you find justice?”

The revision of the Employment Act was passed in early October despite widespread protests. The proposed Bill now needs to be approved by the senate and receive royal assent, before it becomes law.

Various union groups have called the amendments a “return to slavery”, “anti-worker” and “anti-union”. The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) had staged a picket outside Parliament and will be organising nationwide picket against the amendments on Thursday.

The Human Resources Ministry, however, has defended the amendments, saying that it was not intended to promote or institutionalise contractors for labour.

It said that it was to ensure workers’ rights were protected when all outsource agents were registered and monitored. - Free Malaysia Today, 2/11/2011, Another way to exploit workers

Note:- This media report is copied in toto without prejudice. A settlement was reached in my case in August.

While owner-operators or principals must certainly remain the employer, responsible for the rights and welfare of workers - if the government wants to, it can also make employer's agents, recruitment agents, labour outsourcing agents, etc also clearly liable in law for all their actions and/or omissions with regard the said workers. In fact, it be best to clearly also include provisions in the law making employers vicariously liable for all the actions/ommissions of the said agents or third parties - the key word being 'ALL'.

I speak about the possibilities - or the real possibilities that these may be for the benefit of cronies, who may finally get the licences/permits of a business that is most profitable, looking at the practices even now being employed by some outsourcing agents and employers, which I believe is against the law. I am of the opinion that these amendments are also for the purpose of legalizing what is currently illegal or goes contrary to the spirit and/or provisions of existing law. 

No comments: