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Monday, February 11, 2013

Worker and Trade Union Rights in BN-ruled Malaysia - A pro-business government that undermined worker rights, welfare and livelihood -



Worker and Trade Union Rights in BN-ruled Malaysia
- A pro-business government that undermined worker rights, welfare and livelihood -

Under the rule of the UMNO led coalition, today known as the Barisan Nasional(BN), worker and trade union rights have suffered significantly. ‘Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest’ is a right that many workers in Malaysia have lost. Minimum wages, a norm in most developed and developing countries, is something that is still denied to Malaysian workers. Existing worker rights in law have been slowly eroded and accesses to justice have not been made effective and simple for the workers. Even obligations as to rights provided in law are still being taken away by the granting of applications by employers whilst denying the fundamental right to be heard or objections before decisions are made. Minister’s decisions are held to be final and uncontestable in court. Workers are being weakened when union leaders are now allegedly being dismissed simply because they criticized their employers – not because of work performance or work-related misconduct. 

The right to permanent employment until retirement today is being replaced by short-term fixed duration employment relationships, whereby most of these short-term employment contracts are for one year or less, with no guarantee of renewal. Since 2005, with the emergence of the ‘outsourcing concept’ which started for migrant workers, now expanded to local workers, traditional just employment relationships between those that own and control the workplace, who have work and need workers to do the required work, is also being withered away with the introduction of manpower/labour suppliers who now supply workers whilst continuing to be the employers even after the said workers start working at and for the workplaces, factories and offices of the principal. In short, these new ‘employment relationship’ introduces a third party and allows principals and owners to now just utilize the labour free of employer obligations to the rights and welfare of the workers. We shall be looking briefly at the situation of worker and trade unions in Malaysia, but not all, to determine this current government’s performance when it comes to worker rights and welfare.

Erosion of Right to ‘Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest’

Action taken by stonemasons on 21 April 1856, followed by many other worker struggles ultimately led to the establishment and maintenance of the Eight Hour Day, that is now recognized internationally, and this right was also given a high priority by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since its creation in 1919. [i] The slogan ‘Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest’ captures the essence of this struggle. Likewise in Malaysia, this right is to be found in our Employment Act 1955. Any work beyond 8 hours would be construed as overtime work, and this required the consent of the worker and also entitled the worker to be paid extra, at a rate usually not less than one and half times his hourly rate of pay.[ii]

But in 1989[iii], the government amended the law allowing for the Minister to waive these rights as to required hours of work, on the application of the employer, but retained the condition that no worker is required to work for more than forty-eight hours in one week, which subsequently was removed by yet another amendment in 1998[iv].

What was obviously missing was the requirement of the prior agreement of the worker and/or the relevant union, , let alone the right to be heard, before decision are made that allowed the employer  to deny workers this long struggled for right that limits the required hours of work. The law now provides that after that decision is made, ‘… any person who is dissatisfied with any decision of the Director General … may, within thirty days of such decision being communicated to him, appeal in writing … to the Minister, and any decision or order of the Minister shall be final, thus shutting the door to judicial review – being the court's authority to examine an executive or legislative act and to invalidate that act if it is contrary to constitutional principles and justice.

There is also an absence of clear provisions in law that requires the provision of any notice whatsoever to workers and/or their unions when the said applications are being made by employers to the Director General, and as such decisions are being made by the government without workers being given the right to be heard. At present such ‘permissions’ are not even publicly and openly disclosed even in the relevant Ministry’s website. No guidelines and/or simple forms are provided for as to how workers can appeal these decisions, and given that the appeal must be in writing, there being no provision of any right to be heard orally, workers and/or unions, with no required language capabilities or knowledge in law are certainly prejudiced by this present procedure of protest and appeal. Remember, there are about 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, most of whom do not have the capacity to read and write  Bahasa Malaysia, let alone write to the Minister. 

The employment law provides minimum rights for all workers in Malaysia, but these rights can so easily and ‘secretly’ be denied to workers as the Director General of Labour permits employers to do so, with no prior notice or right to be heard given to workers. Similar provisions are available all over the Acts providing for various worker rights to be taken away.

As it stands, now workers may be required to work long hours, even more than ten hours per day, and even more than 48 hours per week – so what exactly is the limit. The employers also can require their workers to work on rest days and even on public holidays, and for some workers do even have to work on May 1st, Workers’ Day. Some companies do not stop operations, and workers are continuously working in their respective shifts and this also prevents workers from meeting and/or organizing unions and/or developing collective demands. Workers on day shifts, some starting at 8.00 am and ending at 8 pm would not even have the opportunity to go to the Labour Department to lodge complaints, and in Malaysia most of the avenues of complaints and justice for workers only operate in the usual working hours. The same is the case with national/regional unions and the MTUC office, National Human Rights Commission(SUHAKAM) and even the Legal Aid Centres operated by the Malaysian Bar.

Minimum Wages

Well in most developed and developing countries, minimum wages for workers have long been fixed by governments and laws.  India, for example has had a Minimum Wage Act since 1948. Other examples include Indonesia[v], Thailand[vi], Vietnam[vii], Philippines, India, Hong Kong, United States of America[viii], Australia[ix], New Zealand[x], Canada[xi] and United Kingdom[xii]. Malaysian government however has been avoiding the fixing of minimum wages, despite repeated calls being made by the Malaysian Trade Union Congress(MTUC) and workers for several decades. Even after August 2010, when the government’s own Human Resources Ministry's study of 1.3 million Malaysian workers found that a shocking 34 percent earned below the poverty line income of RM750 per month[xiii], the government has failed to even propose, set, let alone recommend a minimum wage until now. At the same time, the government continued to implement measures including reducing subsidies that resulted in an even higher cost of living – more suffering for the worker. Now, our Prime Minister, just before the upcoming General Elections, is promising that there will be an announcement about minimum wages on Labour Day 2012.

Fast Track: Average Wages and Allowances for Local Workers

According to Manufacturing Sector Sub-Industry SUB-INDUSTRY
BASIC WAGES (RM)
FIXED ALLOWANCES (RM)
GROSS WAGES (RM)
Electric & Electronic
547.82
202.16
749.98
Furniture
679.12
94.80
773.98
Plastic
636.19
136.55
772.74
Glove
565.14
169.96
735.10
Textile
613.99
116.53
730.52
AVERAGE TOTAL
626.76
135.46
762.20

Source:- Ministry of Human Resources Official Blog [http://www.mohr.gov.my/blog/table1.pdf]

Malaysian government, obviously committed to neo liberalism and free trade is today perceived to be pro-employer, inclined to ensure that cost of labour is kept low and workers in Malaysia are ‘problem-free’ – all this allegedly to keep Malaysia competitive in drawing in foreign investors into the country to open up their factories and businesses.

To this end, Malaysian government may have also interfered with market forces that would reasonably have improved wages, work benefits and conditions of workers by the introduction of migrant workers, temporary and casual workers into the labour market, and also introducing policies and laws that had the effect of weakening worker and union bargaining rights.

Stagnation of Worker Rights and Erosion of Justice for Workers

Since 1955, the Malaysian government seems to have not created new rights or improved much on existing minimum worker rights. They also failed to improve access to justice. If an employer cheats the worker by non-payment of agreed wages, overtime and/or makes wrongful deductions, the worker who succeeds in the Labour Department or Court at the end of the day only gets the amount that he was deprived off, not even additional interest or cost including the cost of transportation, the cost of taking leave and hence loss of daily wages usually when he attends court, and the cost of a lawyer and/or union representatives. When workers want to meet and seek advice or help even from MTUC officials, workers will have to pay them a nominal sum of about RM60 per meeting. At the end of the day, for the lowly paid worker, it becomes more practical that they do not claim their rights, and the errant employer gets off scot-free.

For employers, the law favors them for even when finally it is proven that they have violated worker rights, all that is required of them is to pay the worker what they should have originally paid their workers. As an example, section 100(1) of the Employment Act states:- “Any employer who fails to pay any of his employees wages for work done by his employee on a rest day or pays wages less than the rate provided under section 60 commits an offence, and shall also, on conviction, be ordered by the court before which he is convicted to pay to the employee concerned the wages due for work done on every rest day at the rate provided under section 60, and the amount of such wages shall be recoverable as if it were a fine imposed by such court.” This certainly is not just and does not deter employers from breaking the law. It would maybe have been more just and a deterrent if the errant employer is ordered to pay at least 3 times the sum that he cheated the worker.

In the Employment Act, there is also no provision that protects worker that complaints or accesses the avenues justices from being terminated and/or discriminated by reason of the fact that he is claiming rights against the employer. It is thus not uncommon that workers that complaint or claim rights are summarily terminated and for the migrant worker, it is worse for a termination will also be the loss of the legal right to remain in the country to claim or to continue pursuing their claims compounded with the fact that migrant worker will also not be allowed to work with any other employer even if he is allowed to stay.

Discrimination based on gender also happened when the courts recently affirmed practice of a company having different retirement age for men and women workers, and the Government was silent despite the fact that this certainly goes against our own Federal Constitution guarantee of equality.

Industrial Courts – Only court which requires the Minister’s permission 

When it comes to workers claiming wrongful dismissal seeking reinstatement, they have to lodge their complaint at the Industrial Relations Department(IRD), and if the dispute cannot be resolved, it is then referred to the Minister who then has the power to decide whether the case be referred to the Industrial Court for trial or not. The issue is why the Minister’s permission is even needed, for when a matter cannot be resolved between employee and employer at the IRD, then should it not be immediately referred to the Industrial Court. The placement of this additional hurdle in a worker’s quest for justice is not only unnecessary but may also be discriminatory.

Now, the law also provides that if any party is dissatisfied with the decision of the Minister, they may go to the High Court to challenge that decision but unlike the Labour Courts and Industrial Courts, the High Court there will award of cost against the losing party, and this can be high and for the ordinary worker, who already have been wrongfully dismissed, this may be an added financial risk which is just unaffordable. Justice, I believe, requires the removal of risk of having to pay cost in all worker/union – employer disputes in any court.

As of February 2008, workers successful in their claim for wrongful dismissal saw the entitlement to wages and benefits, drastically slashed when in lieu of reinstatement all they could get was restricted to a maximum of 24 months wages, based on just their last drawn salary less a percentage of post-dismissal earnings. Prior to this their entitlement was for wages and benefits from date of dismissal until judgment and other matters. This was certainly an anti-worker pro-employer amendment.

There is still no Industrial Courts in Pahang, Trengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, Perlis, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. Why did this government not ensure that there are Industrial Courts in all major and medium sized towns, preferably no further than 50 kilometers from the workplace to ensure easy access to justice for workers. Today, after 50 over years since independence, we see Industrial Courts only in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

Weakening of Trade Unions and worker’s bargaining powers for better rights

In Malaysia, as of January 2012, the employed labour force is about 12.4 million, and out of this  only about 798,941(6.44%) workers are members of trade unions, of which about 53% are private sector workers, 38% public sector workers, and 9% workers of statutory bodies/local authorities.

After 50 over years of independence, it is obvious that this Malaysian government have not been actively promoting the formation of trade unions, and more recent policies seems  directed towards further weakening of trade unions. Electronic workers, for example, have still not been allowed by this government to form a national union until this day, and the only concession made after years of struggle was in 2010 when BN allowed the formation of 4 regional unions in the Peninsular.[xiv]

Amongst workers, this government have been seen to be preference for workers in the public sector, statutory bodies and local authorities unions in terms of wage increases, COLA and other benefits, but the primary motive may not be the rights and welfare of workers, but a motive to woo of these workers for support in ensuring the continued political power of this UMNO-led coalition, but today these perks and ‘special treatment’ of these workers may no longer translate in blind and total loyalty to the BN. Close to elections perks may have worked before, but today the people including workers in the public sector have awakened from their slumber, thanks also to the availability of more information not just from alternative media in Malaysia but also exposure to international media and information, and they will vote in the upcoming elections as they please.

NUMBER OF TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP BY GENDER IN MALAYSIA,
YEAR 2006-MARCH 2012
YEAR
NUMBERS OF TRADE UNION 
TOTAL
MALE
FEMALE
2006
631
801,585
484,016
317,569
2007
642
803,212
485,306
317,906
2008
659
805,565
486,978
318,587
2009
680
806,860
487,679
319,181
2010
690
803,289
485,747
317,542
2011
697
800,171
482,653
317,518
MARCH 2012
695
798,941
481,374
317,567
Source: Department of Trade Union Affairs website

The entry of short-term contract employment, temporary and/or casual employees at workplace, all of whom by the very nature of their employment contract and the ease at which they may find their employment ended simply by the non-renewal of their employment contract have made these workers generally less inclined to form, let alone join and actively participate in trade unions. The fact that unions often hold general meetings and elect leadership once every 3 years also denies workers on short-term contracts from real active participation in the unions and makes unions irrelevant to them. 

Compounded with this, the emergence of a new class of workers, who are not even employees of the principal or owner of the workplaces, commonly known as ‘outsourced workers’, who automatically cannot join in-house unions or even regional/national unions, and certainly cannot rely on Collective Agreements, being agreements between employers and worker-employees only has certainly further weakened existing trade unions and worker-employees in terms of their bargaining powers. With no law limiting the percentage of ‘outsourced workers’ at a workplace, some factories today has a workforce made up of about 50% are outsourced workers. 

The Trade Union Act also provides that when a worker has been terminated, he automatically will cease being a member of the trade union, and as such when a worker union member really needs the support, solidarity and assistance of the trade union, he/she is legally deprived of this and likewise, the union’s hand is also tied by this provision is the Trade Union law that is certainly anti-union.

Of late, there has been an increase of highlighted cases where workers who are active in their trade unions are being dismissed, and the reasons advanced by their employer is that they have brought disrepute and/or insulted management of their employer-company. We have the case of Hata Wahari, then also the President of the National Union of Journalist, and more recently the case of NUBE honorary treasurer Chen Ka Fatt and vice-president Abdul Jamil Jalaludeen were dismissed on January 31, believed to be linked to their participating in a rally outside the United Nations building in Geneva where they held a banner saying “Maybank robs poor Malaysian workers”.[xv] Can’t workers and their unions protest and speak out against their employers? When these happened, more so in these companies, that I believe are government-linked or controlled companies, the failure of the Minister or the government to come out against the dismissal of workers or trade unionist is indicative of where this government stands with regard to workers and trade unions. Workers should generally not be terminated save by reason of non-performance of their job and/or some infringement/breach at the workplace or related to work. It is wrong to start dismissing workers just because they criticize their employers. Would workers who now wear T-shirts with words alleging rights violations by their employers also be terminated? Is this what our government wants, is that employees even when they struggle for their rights are not to make any statements or remarks against their unreasonable or ‘bad’ employers, or even the government?  

Erosion of the permanent employment rights

Permanent employment is a basic right, essential for the wellbeing and welfare of the worker and their families. One’s employment usually determines where one will settle-down, buy homes and land, where one’s children will school and even where one’s spouse will find employment. With short-term contracts, it also is stressful for the worker not knowing whether at the end of his contract period, he or she will still be employed at the workplace. 

In our employment laws, what was clearly envisaged was permanent employment until retirement, and this also is evident in our Employment Act 1955 by provisions that provide for increase of entitlements to annual leave, sick leave and even the calculations of termination and lay-off benefits which considered years of service in its calculations. Even when it comes to retrenchment, there was the Last In First Out (LIFO) policy, that protected workers with longer periods of service, and the law also imposed the obligation on employers to first attempt to find alternative employment within the workplace before having to let an employee go.

This right to permanent employment has systematically been replaced with short-term or fixed duration contracts of employment, which lasted one year or less, with no guarantee or safeguard of a renewal of employment contract even if the employer still needs workers at the end of the contract period. 

For those, who already were permanent employees, employers used various means to destroy this relationship and to replace it with short-term contracts. One methods used was the outsourcing of work to 3rd parties, hence forcing employees to leave and enter new contracts with these new employers or face retrenchment. 

Another method that was employed in Malaysia was the Volunteer Separation Schemes (VSS), which the government also encouraged, and many workers lost their permanent employment only to be back working with the same employer but this time under short-term contracts. 

Public sector employees also lost permanent employment with pension rights, when privatization happened and continues to happen.

Employers now can very easily get rid of workers who are older, ‘problematic’ by reason of maybe demanding rights or even involvement in union activities, women who are pregnant, workers who have been partially disabled by reason of some industrial accident by just not offering them a new contract of employment. It effectively diminishes workers’ ability to fight for better wages, working conditions and other employment benefits.

Of late, there has been the introduction of temporary or casual employees, which interestingly also gave the Minister absolute power to reduce worker rights guaranteed by the parent Act for these workers, without first having to go through Parliament.

Having different classes of workers at the workplace strengthens the ability of employers to ‘divide and rule’ workers – hence greater powers to control workers, and at the same time weaken powers of workers to make demands for better rights.

Usage of ‘bonded’ controllable easily abused Migrant Workers

Whilst initially, the wooing of Multi-National Corporations(MNCs) to set up factories and businesses in Malaysia was governed by the primary object of to get employment and income earning opportunities for its people, this seems to have changed and rights and welfare of workers and their families no longer seems the priority – rather the well-being and profits of companies.

Initially, Malaysian government started opening Free Trade Zones near the bigger towns, and workers from all over the country came to work but as time went by and wages remained low, cost of living increased and the quality of life declined, workers started moving back to their home towns and new workers were less inclined to come.

As such, the government started to move these factories all over Malaysia to where the workers and their families were, and today in Malaysia there are over 200 industrial estates, free commercial zones and free industrial zones spread all over the country.

As time went on, Malaysian workers started wanting better wages and working conditions, but rather than succumbing to these demands and making sure that wages, conditions and work benefits improved, Malaysian government came to the assistance of employers by bringing in more controllable and cheaper labour – migrant workers, who were also bound to work with one employer only and this too enabled employers the ability to oppress these workers, for after all if the migrant worker was unhappy, the only choice he had was to quit and return back to their home country but that was not a real option for them who would have also spend a lot of money and incurred debts when they chose to come to Malaysia as migrant workers.

Access to justice is available to migrant workers just like any other worker, but when they complained of rights violations or started using these legal mechanisms, the response of many employers was simply termination and work passes/visas will still be cancelled, and they can no longer remain legally in the country and as such the loss of right to pursue their claims in the Labour Courts and other avenues. To stay on in the country ‘illegally’ came with it the risk of being arrested, detained, charged in court, convicted, whipped, and thereafter deported. The fact that they have valid claims or have lodged complaints in relevant avenues for justice is irrelevant. 

Hence, migrant workers became a preferred source of labour for many employers – bonded and forced to work for the one employer, so very easily forced to work overtime, rest days and even public holidays, so very easily cheated of their rights and benefits who really have no real option or avenue of complaint of remedy in the home country, and so easily gotten rid off. 

Initial knee-jerk ‘protest’ by some local workers and their unions, quickly gave way to worker solidarity and Malaysian workers and trade unions, including the MTUC  began to accept migrant workers as workers, and started also fighting for their rights as workers, and also as migrant workers. The unions accepted migrant workers as members of trade unions, irrespective of the fact that one of the conditions of these migrant worker work pass/visas denied them the freedom of association. The unions, including the MTUC, were ready and willing to take the matter to court if any employer, or the Malaysian government, contested the right of migrant workers to join unions or benefit from Collective Agreements – but they were never forced to do so.

Besides migrant workers, the Malaysian government also created other classes of workers – temporary and casual workers, and their differences from ordinary workers kept them divided from other workers, and also not joining existing unions.

Using Just Labour Without Employment Relationship or obligation to protect worker rights

But then, even short-term contract workers, migrant workers or the other types of workers were still employees of the factory and workplaces they worked at, and employers still had duties and obligations as employer to ensure that the rights and welfare of these worker-employees as contained in existing national laws, and also collective agreements. 

What if employers could just use the labour without entering into an employment relationship with these workers? That way employers can totally avoid all obligations placed on employers to recognize and protect rights of their worker-employees as provided for in law and also other international standards. 

So, on about 2005, the Malaysian government came up with a policy that allowed factories and workplaces to use workers, without having to enter into any employment relationship with these workers. A new entity was created called ‘outsourcing agents/companies’, who would be labour/manpower suppliers, who would  be supplying workers to factories and workplaces, who unlike private employment agencies (governed by the Private Employment Agencies Act 1971) will be considered employers of these workers, and will continue to be the employer of the workers even after they are accepted by and start working at factories and workplaces, and these workers were commonly known as the ‘outsourced workers’. Now, this policy and practice, I believe, was contrary to existing law and principles, and interestingly the Ministry that issued the license/permits to ‘outsourcing agents/companies’ was not the Ministry of Human Resources but the Ministry of Home Affairs – and this was not right. This practice, in the beginning, applied only to migrant workers but later was slowly extended to local workers, and today in some factories, about 50% of the workforce is made up of these ‘outsourced workers’ – who not being employees of the factory and/or workplace, also cannot join workplace unions and/or benefit from Collective Agreements. Effectively, existing employee-workers and their unions were weakened.

The ‘Outsourcing agents/companies’, was a very profitable business with little or no risk, even from their ‘employees’ who even if they were to strike would not affect these manpower suppliers (‘contractors for labour’) for after all they have no factories and no work that needs the worker’s labour to generate any profits. Some say, that with all that talk about ‘approved permits’(AP), this just these ‘outsourcing agents/companies’ were the new way of enriching cronies and friends of those in power. Factory for 1 worker per day pays the ‘outsourcing company’ RM60, they pay the worker maybe about RM30, and that means profit of RM30 per day – and for thousand workers per year that would be over RM9 million. For these new ‘Labour Toll Operators’, profiting from the sweat and labour of workers is certainly a gold-mine.
In 2010, the Malaysian government took steps to give statutory recognition to this adulterated unjust employment practices and relationship. They wanted to give legal recognition to these ‘contractors for labour’ – these manpower suppliers. They wanted to confirm that the contractor for labour is the employer, and remains the employer of these ‘outsourced workers’ even after they start working in the workplaces of principals. All these was achieved, despite strong protest coming from workers, their unions, MTUC, civil society groups not just from Malaysia but also internationally, when the amendments proposed was passed, and came into effect on 1/4/2012.

The use of ‘outsourced workers’ or outside workers at workplaces by principals are growing, and it also happens in government-linked companies. For example, the TNB Junior Officers Union also recently in 2012 protested the employment and use of ‘outsourced workers’ by TNB.
The Minister of Human Resources recently announced, an exemption[xvi] of some (but not all) of the recent amendments concerning ‘contractor for labour’ to all sectors save the agricultural sector, but if you look at the words used, it was just a reaffirmation of ‘contractors for labour’ and the continued use of ‘outsourced workers’ by principals who are not taken as their employees.

What this Malaysian government did to the workers and employment relationships in Malaysia, was contrary to the even the sentiments and principles governing employment relationships of even the International Labour Organization. Our own Employment Act also clearly states that “the person or class of persons employed, engaged or contracted with to carry out the work shall be deemed to be an employee or employees and (a) the principal or owner of the agricultural or industrial undertaking, constructional work, trade, business or place of work; or (b) the statutory body or local government authority, shall be deemed to be the employer”. Rightfully all involved in the business of finding and supplying workers must be private employment agencies, governed by the Private Employment Agencies Act 1971, who for their services will be paid a fixed one-time fee, and will thereafter have no other relationship, let alone employment relationships, with the workers after they are accepted and started working for the principal who thereafter will be the principal’s employees.
The protest by the MTUC and workers continue. The Malaysian Bar also in 2012 passed a Resolution unanimously calling also for the maintenance of just 2-party employment relationship between workers and the principal to the exclusion of all 3rd parties, especially the ‘contractor for labour’ – whether they are called labour/manpower suppliers or outsourcing companies/agents. All existing ‘outsourced workers’ should immediately be considered and treated as employees of the principal, and at any workplace there must be just one class of workers all of whom are employees of the principal, who can join the unions at the workplace and fight as one for better worker rights and benefits.

The way forward
At the end of the day, we see that this UMNO-led coalition, today known as the Barisan Nasional, who have ruled since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, seemed to have lost their way abandoning their duties and obligation to improve rights and welfare of persons, workers and their families, and became pro-employer pro-businesses. By their actions and/or omissions slowly but surely worker and trade union rights have been eroded. The government need to immediately stop being pro-employer and businesses, and concerned with profits, and do the needful immediately to restore rights of workers to permanent employment until retirement, strengthen trade unions which is an essential tool for the protection and improvement of the livelihood of workers, and most importantly maintain the 2-party employment relationship that is driven not by money and profits, but the common good and wellbeing of all persons. Recent protests by workers have been ignored, and as such all we can say is that this Barisan Nasional government have not only failed workers and their unions, and worse still is not showing any intention of changing their ways.

In the upcoming elections, Malaysian workers and their families, will again have the opportunity to get rid of this Barisan Nasional government, and let a new coalition of political parties to win and form a new government in the hope that a new government will do the needful not only to stop this erosion of worker and trade union rights, but to restore some of the rights workers in Malaysia have lost. The choice ultimately rests with the people and the workers, and upmost in their consideration would be the future of rights, welfare and livelihood of workers and their families, including also the children who will be future workers. Our concern must not be driven by self-interest based on workplace or sector, ethnicity, nationality, religion, culture or even current political affiliations, but by a concern for the future common good and best interest of all persons and their families which includes the over 10 million workers in Malaysia. 

Charles Hector
4th April 2012

* This article was published ALIRAN in 2 parts
2012: 5 » Worker and trade union rights in BN-ruled Malaysia (Part 1)
2012: 6 » Workers’ and trade union rights in BN-ruled Malaysia (Part 2)

[i] The Preamble to Part XIII “Labour” of the Versailles system of peace treaties, under which the ILO was established, specifically included “the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week” among the measures urgently required to improve conditions of labour. Convention Limiting the Hours of Work in Industrial Undertakings to Eight in the Day and Forty-eight in the Week (Note: Date of coming into force: 13:06:1921.)
[ii] Section 60A 3(a) Employment Act 1955
[iii] Employment (Amendment) Act 1989 Act A716
[iv] Employment (Amendment) Act 1998 Act A1026
[v] Minimum wages for industrial zones in Jakarta – USD230 (RM701) per month
[vi] In Thailand, for Bangkok and six provinces, the minimum wage was just recently raised to 300 baht (US$9.76)(about RM30) per day effective from April 1, 2012.
[vii] In Vietnam minimum wage ranges from VND1,400,000 (US$67.34)(RM205) per month in remote areas to VND2,000,000 (US$96.20)(RM293) per month in the key cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
[viii] $7.25(RM22) per hour (as of July 24, 2009) but may vary in certain situations
[ix] Australia's minimum wage is $15.51(RM49) per hour or $589.30(RM1,867) per week generally.
[x] New Zealand - The adult minimum wage increases from $13.00 per hour to $13.50(RM34) from April 1st 2012.
[xi] Canada – between $9.27(RM28.6) to $11(RM33.9) per hour in 2012
[xii] United Kingdom - £6.08 (RM29.7) per hour - for workers aged 21 and over 
[xiii] Malaysiakini, 5/8/2010, Study: 34% of workers earning below poverty line
[xiv] Star, 1/5/2010, Electronics workers to get 4 regional unions soon – “…“It was the decision of the Cabinet on May 27 last year that only unions at regional level would be allowed, unlike the national unions for the other industries,” he[the Western Region union general secretary Bruno Periera ] said in a statement…”
[xv] HarakahDaily, 7/2/2012, Declaring 'war on Maybank', NUBE lodges report over staff dismissal
[xvi] Any person that enters into a contract for service with a principal to supply the employees required by the principal for the execution of whole or any part of any work for the principal in any industry, establishment or undertakings other than the agricultural undertakings is exempted from sections 31, 33A, 69 and 73 of the Act. – Employment (Exemption) Order 2012 dated 27 March 2012. – P.U.(A) 87


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