Sunday, January 20, 2013

Without Trade Unions, workers are easily exploited by employers

Workers in Malaysia are a low priority of this current Malaysian Government, and their ability to form Trade Unions and thereafter get recognition is filled with hurdles, making it difficult for workers to get unionized, and thereafter get recognition.

Trade Unions are necessary to enable workers to collectively be able to protect their rights as an employee, and to also struggle to get better rights and benefits. Without trade unions, employers very easily can exploit workers - dealing just with the one worker is always easier than having to deal with workers united. 

As an example, with the introduction of the minimum wages, many employers to escape this legal obligation have been lobbying the government for exemptions, delays in implementation, and even now the exclusion of certain classes of employees. Workers, unorganised and alone, is not only too weak but just do not have the capacity to be able to challenge these actions/applications/lobby by employers. Furthermore, this government many a time do not even listen to the affected workers before approving some application of employers.

With regard to minimum wages, some employers are now calling in workers individually or in small groups 'forcing' them to sign 'new agreements' with regards their pay structures. Allowances and other employment incentives, that they used to receive are being removed as their basic wage is increased to comply with the requirement of the new Minimum Wage law that states that workers minimim wages must be not less than RM900-00. In short, workers are being cheated and they just do not know better. What the employers should be doing is increasing the basic wage, and keeping all other allowances, incentive and benefits intact. With no trade union, it is so easy to deprive workers of their rights. With no rights education, it is so easy to cheat workers. 

Many a time, this pressure to sign away their rights are accompanied by threats, actual or otherwise. For workers on short term employment contract, it is so much easier - 'You do not want to sign, it is OK but we will not give you an extension of your employment contract...or even offer you any new contracts'. For new contract workers, simply the payment scheme is already adjusted, denying them all allowances, incentives and benefits that workers before used to enjoy.

That is why workers need Trade Unions, who will be able to at least fight for their rights...

And workers also need a government that puts the rights and welfare of workers and their families as a priority. Guidelines and advice for the employer is done by the government...but where are the Guidelines and advice for workers. Why is the government advising workers not to sign any new agreements, or any proposals to amend existing employment agreements? Why is the government not providing easy avenues, maybe the 'Labour Departments'(now called Human Resource Departments) which exist in most towns as where workers can go to complain about attempts  of employers to evade paying Minimum Wages, or more importantly trying to now erase certain benefits and allowances that workers already enjoy. Why are there no compulsory briefing to workers so that they not be 'cheated' by employers, who just do not want to pay more than what they are paying - so they cut other benefits, and the end result may sometimes even be that the employer now will be paying less to workers overall...   

Media also sadly fails in their role - they just do not give space to report actions, opinions...that is pro-worker - but we see this same media giving so much space to employers...The woes of the employer are highlighted, whilst the suffering and hardship of workers and their family are not priority

Trade Unions - some are fighting for workers, and fighting openly. Some, unfortunately are not, or are doing it behind close doors through meetings with the government - many a time not even disclosing to their own membership what happened at these meetings. Many Trade Union leaders all still using 'old methods' and trying to solve problems quietly or through legal channels (which by the way, can be very very long certainly to the disadvantage of workers..)

Workers and Unions need to fight openly for their rights, soliciting support from the public (who, I believe, once aware would do the right thing in the interest of justice).  

I too was unaware of plight of Trade Unions and workers...but now, I am becoming more and more aware - and hope to also highlight these to my readers...

We need to do more to ensure justice for workers and their families  - for what is lost today may be just too difficult to reclaim tomorrow, and the children and children of children would just continue to suffer..

Some issues that we need ensure:-

REGULAR EMPLOYMENT - that is employment until retirement. (Short-Term Employment Contract is just a tool of oppression, and certainly creates a precarious life and future for the worker and their family - Will I have a job next year? Will I be employed when I get older? Will I get employed when I get pregnant? Would the employer employ me when I am 2 or 3 months pregnant - I think not? Would I be employed after I lost one finger by reason of an industrial accident? Remember housing/car loans all have to be paid monthly.  Short-term employment gives the employer the right to say 'take it or leave it' and seniority in employment becomes no more an issue when you are employed on short-term contracts - no wage increments, no annual leave increments,...)

EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EMPLOYER WHO OWNS THE WORKPLACE. Today, I may be working in MANA Factory, but I am not an employee of MANA Factory - just a worker, as my real employer is some ABC company who asked me to work at MANA Factory. ABC has no control over the work and/or workers in MANA or the working conditions. I have no right to negotiate for better working conditions and benefits with MANA - and negotiating with ABC is no use since they just have no power...They call this the 'Contractor For Labour System' - and it really opens the door to oppress workers...

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