Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shameful - Trade Unionist charging dismissed workers RM5k-RM10k to fight for them?

When workers claim wrongful dismissal, we expect trade unions and fellow workers to come to the assistance of these dismissed workers - not taking the opportunity to charge them 'legal fees' to assist them fight for justice in tribunals/courts.

RM5,000 - RM10,000 seems to be the going rate that some of these Unionist, many of whom are Union office bearers and/or employees of Union, are charging these dismissed workers to fight their case at the Industrial Court. The affected workers, many of the times, have to come up with their own monies - not from the Union funds. 

Some Unionist are also allegedly charging workers a fee for them to even go and meet workers that are facing problems with their employers. One worker once told me that they had to pay RM60 for the Union official to just come and meet them once. So, does it not surprise me that many workers are losing faith in trade unions and union officials.

SOLIDARITY - that is the basis principle of Trade Unions. Workers together fighting against injustice, and fighting for better worker rights and working conditions. When one worker is victimized, other workers will come together to fight that injustice, and this would not just be in the form of 'uttered words' but also real support, which naturally may include financial support. Money to fight for justice should never be the concern of the individual affected workers - but should be coming from fellow workers, more so if the workers are organised, and if there is a Union - it should come from the Union. 

BUT if the worker, who has just lost his source of income,  has to further pay Union officials RM5k-RM10k(maybe even more), something is very very wrong.

Unionist like this, in my opinion,  have lost their priorities and commitment, and seem to be more interested in personal enrichment. 

This money collected from the 'victimized workers' pay also do not go back to the Unions - but end up in their own pockets. They exploit the people they are supposed to be fighting for?

Such 'Unionist' must be rejected by workers - their actions may also be 'union busting' - creating a dis-interest amongst workers to join unions.

Further, fighting for workers in some of these labour tribunals require special skills and training - skills that lawyers have as a result of their professional education and training.  Some Unionist may have it - but alas many, including also some lawyers, may not have the required skills to fight cases in tribunals and courts. 

Adducing evidence, challenging evidence adduced by the opposition, examination in chief and cross examination, and other legal skills are not matters that everyone possesses or can acquire - so the failure of justice can be because of incompetence and/or negligence of the lawyer or the person that represented workers in these struggles for justice.

Unionist possess (or should develop) certain 'special' skills - organizing skills, motivation skills, negotiation skills, fighting for justice and promotion of rights skills, skills in dealing with employers (or even government), etc...and these are 'special skills' not easily acquired.

Given the fact, that only about 4.5% of Malaysian workers in the private sector are unionized, unionist have a very large task in front of them. Unionist should not be spending to much time focusing in fighting cases in tribunals/courts themselves and 'self-financial-enrichment'.

There are lawyers out there, and now that the Malaysian Bar has passed a Resolution in 2015, legal aid available to workers has even been extended from the point of lodging complaint. Workers, especially low-waged workers who qualify, can also get legal aid lawyers to act for them - and the services are literally free, all that a qualified worker may need to pay is s small sum, about RM250 maximum(I believe), being payment for filing fees, photocopy, etc.. no payment for 'legal fees'. See:-     Resolution for Provision of Legal Aid for Workers adopted in Malaysian Bar AGM

MTUC not wanting right of representation for workers to be enlarged?
In a recent meeting at the Ministry of Human Resources, one of the officers commented that the one thing that Unions and Employer bodies can agree upon was for not enlarging the right of representation at labour departments and tribunals. Now, in many of these forums, when it comes to workers the right of representation is restricted to the worker themself and their unions. The suggestion by the said person was that this 'selfish positioning' was primarily secure their personal sources of income... 

In fact, given the number of workers and many of them are poor low-incomed workers, these right of representation can and should be extended to others, so that workers will have more choices of people who can represent them, which could include lawyers(including legal aid lawyers), retired labour officers, unionists and others.

The position taken by the MTUC then, if true,  was disgusting and shameful, as the concern of trade unionist should always be the upholding of justice without fear or favour.... and unions rightly should be fighting for the expansion of the rights of representation at all levels ...

What are Unions? Well, if ordinary workers begin to feel that Unions and their leaders are just another group that are taking advantage of them - just interested in workers for the 'money' they can get from workers - there is a problem. When Unionist charge workers money for fighting worker cases, this may be perspective of workers...

UNIONs are for bringing workers together so that workers in solidarity and together can fight and struggle against injustice, for better rights, for better working conditions... TOGETHER will workers fight...remember the slogan....'workers united will never be defeated'

The hope is that the few Unionist out there who are abusing their position for their personal enrichment by charging workers to defend worker rights will change their ways - alternatively, workers will 'wise up' and reject these unionist. There are times where Unionist, may have to fight for workers in tribunals and courts - but do this without asking for payment for personal enrichment.

A perusal of the reported Industrial Court cases will see that most of the workers who have taken up wrongful dismissal cases are the more 'well off' workers - the poorer workers just maybe could not afford to fight, and this is sad and so unjust.

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