Monday, December 30, 2013

'Peaceful Negotiations' are not working for MTUC - maybe time for this 'toothless tiger' to use other methods of struggle for worker rights

Historically, it has been strikes and industrial actions that have been the most effective tool in getting employers to act to provide workers better rights and working condition. It was also the 'name and shame' element of worker protest that have moved employers to respect worker rights and discontinue injustice. In Malaysia, even union leaders are being terminated when they use this method as had happened with leaders from NUBE, NUJ and most recently NUFAM.

Peaceful negotiations should be the first priority but when employers and  the Executive(the Prime Minister, Cabinet and the Ministries) do not respond to these initiatives and attempts, MTUC, Trade Unions and workers may need to use other methods including strikes, industrial actions, massive protests and pickets to fight for just demands of Malaysian workers.

When the Ministry that looked at the welfare and interests of workers changed its name to Human Resource Ministry, its focus shifted not just name but priorities to the needs of Employers - no more workers. Laws and policies that protected worker rights and welfare were also amended eroding even fundamental rights like the 8-hour work day - now enabling employers to force workers to work for even more than 48 hours a week. 

MTUC and the Malaysian Trade Unions have become 'toothless tigers', and despite they being the representative of over 5 million workers, their strongest demands have been ignored not just by the executive but also the BN-dominated Parliament.

Regular employment until retirement, a right enjoyed by Malaysian workers in the not to distant past, are being eroded away in favour of precarious short-term employment many of which are just for a year or less thus automatically even denying workers of guaranteed increments of annual leave and sick leave entitlements, maternity leave and benefits, termination retrenchment and lay-off benefits. Probation, which is logical for those who will ultimately be regular employees, is also now being used in these fixed short-term employment contract employees which really is unjustified, more so that when entitlement for workers on probation is far less than for confirmed employees. There is still no law limiting the length of probation, which justly should never exceed 3 months - how long should an employer really have to access the suitability of an employee for the work he/she has been employed for. 

Direct employment relationship with the owner/operator of the workplace(the principal) through the usage of workers supplied by 3rd parties(contractors for labour who the law recognizes as the real employees - not the  principals who really is the person with the power and ability to improve working conditions and benefits. If there is a trade union in a workplace, workers not employees of the principal will not be able to join these Trade Unions, let alone benefit from the better rights/privileges that are contained in Collective Bargaining Agreements. Can employees of these 3rd party contractor for labours organise and form unions? Yes -they can but practically these labour suppliers supply workers to so many different workplaces and even sectors making it impossible for the employees to even meet yet alone form unions. Then, Malaysian Trade Union laws allow for unionization based on work sectors - and as such, the ability to even join the regional,national or even State based unions and get recognition becomes a near impossibility - because employees of contractors for labour are employed in so many different sectors.

Laws create 'conditions' that make it almost impossible to strike or carry out other industrial actions not amounting to strikes like 'work to rule', etc. Pickets are also restricted by law. National unions and regional unions just cannot use their large membership over a sector effectively to protest an unjust action that happens in one workplace. 

Misconduct is not regulated by law, and this has resulted in the all powerful employer extending the scope of misconduct to cover so much more than conduct of the workmen in doing the work assigned, matters at the workplace, etc. The right to even a domestic inquiry is not provided for in the Law.(MAS did not even have a DI before terminating NUFAM's president.)

 Wrongful termination of workers and even worker leaders are so easy nowadays and the law makes its easy for the employer to just permanently get rid of workers claiming rights - Industrial court cases take years, and even if the employer is found guilty of wrongful termination, the worker has effectively lost the right to reinstatement without loss of benefits - now thanks to the amended Schedule 2 of the Employment Act 1955, compensation in lieu of reinstatement has been limited to no more than 24 months in favour of the employer.

Strong union leaders are being terminated because they raised the 'unjustness' of employers even if such was done in private amongst the workers in closed Facebook groups - case in point being the case of Wan Noorulazhar of KSIEWBSM. 

Media in Malaysia also does not cover a lot of worker protests/pickets and even statements. Even when they do, workers are painted negatively and names of errant employers also do not get reported.

Unionist have embraced 'peaceful negotiations' or making complaints to the Ministry followed by closed door negotiations, some of which just take too long. Members of unions and the public are not kept abreast about many of these complaints, or their outcomes. In short, many of the Unions are now concerned primarily with CA (Collective Bargaining Agreements), and maybe representing workers who are wrongfully dismissed [not for free usually but the workers will have to pay]. Unions, including MTUC, over the years have just lost the support of even it member workers - and recently when there was a call for a picket, it saw only 500. If UNIONS are unable to show the support of the millions of workers in Malaysia, why should the employer or the even the current BN government (or the Opposition State governments) even bother with Khalid, MTUC or the other Unions. Union leaders are kept busy with appointed positions in Wage Consultative Council, EPF Board, various Committees/Workshops set up by the government, ILO meetings, etc - and one wonders this government-employer strategy has successfully killed the worker movement and trade unionisms in Malaysia. 

Now, all is not lost and the new leadership of MTUC must lead and revive Malaysian worker movement. There is a need for regular meetings and consultation with Malaysian workers all over Malaysia involving many workers - leaders need to re-establish their credibility and that of UNIONs. Sadly, many unions do not even have monthly, quarterly or even yearly meetings attended by all its membership - some leaders behave so much like politicians - whereby there is little consultation (or even efforts to keep membership informed) and the dominant mentality is members elect and then you should just 'listen...listen' and trust us to do what is best for you workers. This is something that needs to change...regaining the support of workers, motivating them to action, education about solidarity and importance of solidarity, etc is just some of the things that need to be done. Fear of 'bad laws' or the de-registration of unions should no longer justify 'inaction' or just the using the past ineffective methods. MTUC and worker leadership also failed to take advantage of the momentum when people were ready to come out in large numbers - we should have had a HIMPUNAN 1PEKERJA, which if organized at the correct time and location would see a gathering of maybe 50,000 or more, and after that this government (and the employers) would be reminded and shown that the MTUC and the UNIONs do indeed have a large following and support, and is no more a force to be ignored or treated lightly...

MTUC has a lot to do in Malaysia - the websites must be updated regularly, filled also with stories of worker struggles and successes(something which the mainstream and even the alternative media is not doing). MTUC should motivate all Unions to have at the very least their own BLOGs and to use it as a tool to communicate with its membership (and potential membership). We do not even have a worker magazine in Malaysia - this is something that MTUC could do. Remember, Malaysia is a democracy - and as such it is the the people that are the bosses, so let MTUC (and other UNIONs) just continue dealing with the Minister and Ministry officials, or even MPs  - they should go back to the people in Malaysia with their issues, and garner public support, which if they do succeed would force those in political power into action. 

Happiness with an occasional statement carried by the media must not be the end all. At present, even the full statement that was made to the media is not even reported in the MTUC website ....and we all know that many a media would only report what they want - never the full statement.

Remember always that there are millions of workers, and if one includes their spouses and families, it translates into a lot of votes and any government/politician must be sensitive to the just demands of workers if they wish to win elections or stay in power. But now, many believe that MTUC and the Unions are irrelevant and their leaders just do not have the support of their membership (let alone other workers)... and so can be ignored. MTUC now must prove them wrong and it starts with these new leaders..


MTUC Seeking RM300 Monthly COLA For 10 Million Workers

27 December 2013 Print page
PETALING JAYA, Dec 27 (Bernama) — The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) today proposed a RM300 per month cost of living allowance (COLA) for all the 10 million private sector workers in view of the escalating cost of living.

Its President, Khalid Atan, told bernama that it was essential for the government to introduce the regulation on COLA because almost five million private sector workers were now earning just about RM30 above the poverty line of RM870 per month.

At present the minimum wage for workers in peninsular Malaysia is RM900 and for those in Sabah and Sarawak it is RM800.

Khalid said MTUC was working out strategies to help ease the workers’ burden.

In the interim period, he suggested that companies should assist by providing subsidised food and lodging for their workers.

In turn, he said the workers would help the companies to increase productivity thus making it a win win situation.

Khalid said the congress was concerned about the immediate impact of the increased transportation, food and schooling cost particularly on workers in the lower income group.

He assured that MTUC, being a responsible workers organisation, would not go to the streets to demand for its rights, but would prefer peaceful negotiations.

Source: Bernama 
See also MTUC Website

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