Wednesday, October 19, 2016

MTUC suports the TPPA - happy with labour reforms it brings? A sad day for Malaysia? - Malaysiakini Interview

It is a sad day when the Malaysian Trade Union Congress(MTUC) seems to be now in favour of the TPPA just because one of the by-products will be possible amendment of labour laws. This was one of the pre-conditions of joining the TPPA insisted especially by the US government, which saw the signing of and agreement between Malaysia and the US.

MTUC is  the Labour Centre considered by the Malaysian government to be representative of the workers in Malaysia. At the International Labour Organisation(ILO), MTUC is the acknowledged worker representative of Malaysia. For now, MTUC is seen as the government-approved representative of all workers/unions in Malaysia..

The position taken by MTUC, as reported in this news report is rather embarrassing - and it is inconsistent with the anti-TPPA position adopted by civil society organisations, trade unions and many Malaysians. What do the over 10 million workers think of MTUC's stance on the TPPA. What does the unions who are members of MTUC think? Or is this merely the view of the leadership of MTUC...Remember, the fight against the TPPA is ongoing...

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA)...But contrary to its previous stance of opposing the world’s largest trade pact, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is actually looking forward to its implementation...This is because chapter 19 of the TPPA talks about labour rights, among others....“In addition to chapter 19, there is a bilateral agreement signed between the Malaysian government and the United States where the US government is requesting Malaysia to reform its labour laws,”

MTUC may need to clarify its position on the TPPA - are they still opposed to the TPPA, or have they been 'bought over' by labour amendments it will bring. One must look at the TPPA in toto - and even if there maybe a few positive aspects, it must still be rejected and opposed if there things that TPPA will bring that are not for the good of Malaysia and Malaysians.What is MTUC and the Unions position on the TPPA? 


The struggle to change laws to better worker/trade union rights must be the struggle of the labour movement, MTUC and the rest of the unions. Most times, MTUC and the Unions do not even lobby the public and get them involved in the struggle to improve worker and trade union rights. Have a look at the MTUC site - there is not even information about what changes in law that MTUC is struggling for now, it seems that MTUC simply 'secretly' communicate to the government - so 'secret' that even union members and workers do not know what MTUC is fighting for, and in what issues they have 'compromised'? Is MTUC still fighting for the abolition of the contractor for labour system - noting it still exist in all sectors, and there is no LIMIT as to how many such workers employers could use - soon it may be 90%? Remember, the 'contractor for labour system' seem to not consider the owners of factory and the workplaces as the 'employer' - hence denying these workers the right to fight for better working conditions and workplace rights (And, of course the 'labour suppliers' will not be able to improve working conditions?)...No unions to date representing these 'contractor for labour' supplied workers?

Labour reforms should have been won through the struggle of workers and unions in Malaysia, but alas now in comes as a result of US-Malaysian Agreement connected with the TPPA. Was these reforms done in consultation with the workers (or the labour movement) in Malaysia?

True, some of these labour reforms are positive - but MTUC really must take a stance on the TPPA. You do not support such terrible agreements just because you like some of the 'goodies'.  


How does MTUC fight against violations of worker/trade union rights, promote and struggle for worker/trade union rights? Well, the Secretrary General says that '...MTUC being the umbrella body - from time to time, we raise all the workers’ challenges, as well as issues to the government’s attention...' So, they raise - not struggle for or fight for ...raising is simple, just sent a letter/memo.. 

Has MTUC lost the will to fight, not alone, but in solidarity with all workers, and with the support of all Malaysians? Since 1998, Malaysians have become brave enough to take to the streets in tens of thousands to express themselves and demand rights - but alas to date, even though there are a lot of worker/union issues, MTUC or the Unions have yet to call for any mass protest. Is this an indication of the state of Unions in Malaysia? the state of the Labour movement?


HISTORY - Clearly, MTUC secretary-general N Gopal Kishnam is not even clear about the history of Malaysian Trade Union movement, when he says,..."  Pre-independence, there was a general union. But after independence, the general union was structured in a way that you can only form a union based on either you are an industry, work or enterprise. So the government has already divided trade unionism in the country, so they are divided as such as they are not so united..." He is wrong..

In 1947, the Pan Malayan General Labour Union, which was established in 1946, and later changed its name to Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU), boasted a membership of 263,598, and this represented more than half the total workforce in Malaysia. 85 percent of all existing unions were part of the PMFTU...

1940 Trade Union Ordinance (as amended in May 1948) - The stated object in the tile was clear, ``An Enactment for the Registration and Control of Trade Unions''. Its declared purpose was the fostering of ``the right kind of responsible leadership amongst workers and...Here, is when the confined unions to workplace unions, and/or unions of one trade or industry. 

On 12 June 1948, the British colonial government finally outlawed PMFTU...Many of the leaders of the labour movement were arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced...with the requirement of registration, and the powers vested in the Registrar of Trade Unions, the government could now eliminate the stronger ‘trouble maker’ trade unionist and trade unions, and break up the labour movement according to sectors/industries – divide and rule.

In January 1949, there only remained 163 registered Trade Unions with a total membership of only 68,814... The Council of Trade Unions was formed and they organized the Conference of Malayan Trade Union Delegates on 27-28 February 1949, and this gave birth to what is now known as the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC).

MTUC emerges as a coalition of the new British colonial 'government  approved' unions, but the question remains whether after 60 plus years, after independence, have MTUC and Malaysian Unions broken out of the 'prison' imposed by the British then and our pro-employer government of the day. 

A perusal would suggest that they have not - there are still trapped in that 'restricted space' - and worst still is the fact that they are not fighting as a union should for the promotion and defence of worker rights. 

They still generally fail to fight for their rights with employers - when rights are violated, they simply file a complaint with the relevant Department, and then battle on in court in battles that can last many years. Employers are happy as workers/unions are not causing them any pressure/distress - and they continue on with their business and profits as usual.  [When was the last Strike? - over 30-40 years ago? Why?]

Now, Mr Gopal Kishnam have also raised many good points in this interview - and my comments are focused just on some points that I believe is wrong...

The leadership of Unions and MTUC need to be very careful of what they say - because they represent the over 13 million of workers and all trade unions in Malaysia. Now, Najib and this UMNO-BN government can turn around and tell us that workers and unions in Malaysia all support the TPPA, on the basis of what came out in this interview with the current secretary of  MTUC?? 

If the report conveyed the wrong message - then MTUC needs to come out with a Media Statement clarifying matters...


MTUC looks forward to reforms in labour laws with TPPA

Alyaa Azhar     Published     Updated
NTERVIEW Mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and you would see critics slamming the free trade agreement, claiming that it would make drugs more expensive and undermine the sovereignty of the country, among others.
But contrary to its previous stance of opposing the world’s largest trade pact, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is actually looking forward to its implementation.

“We are looking forward to some sort of reforms in the labour laws in the country,” said MTUC secretary-general N Gopal Kishnam in an interview with Malaysiakini.

This is because chapter 19 of the TPPA talks about labour rights, among others.

“In addition to chapter 19, there is a bilateral agreement signed between the Malaysian government and the United States where the US government is requesting Malaysia to reform its labour laws,” he added.

So when it comes to the perspective of workers, MTUC, therefore, does see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Gopal, however, noted how the Human Resources Ministry is now “very busy” to be in line with the requirements of the United States.

“What does that show? They are not respecting the needs of Malaysians.

“Someone from another part of the world is saying, they are running for it, except now they are lost, they don’t know where to start,” Gopal noted.

Despite opposition from various stakeholders against the TPPA, it was signed in New Zealand on Feb 4 this year after going through the negotiation process since 2010. The trade pact is expected to take effect in 2018.

Malaysia is one of the signatories, apart from the US, Brunei, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru and Mexico.

The TPPA aside, in the following excerpt, Gopal talks about the role of unions in the country as well as issues concerning workers.

‘Employment Act not enough’

What is the role of unions in Malaysia in safeguarding workers?

A very simple reason why workers are forming trade unions is simply because they believe that basic protection provided for through the Employment Act is not enough. So (it is) only through a trade union that they can enhance their benefits by way of collective bargaining or collective agreement in Malaysian terms.

Have these unions been effective in playing their role?

Looking at the Malaysian context, the government adapted the United Kingdom structure of trade unionism where they were divided into four categories, which means that trade unions are not freely formed.

Pre-independence, there was a general union. But after independence, the general union was structured in a way that you can only form a union based on either you are an industry, work or enterprise. So the government has already divided trade unionism in the country, so they are divided as such as they are not so united.

What has been the workers’ hope and confidence in unions as well as in MTUC which acts as the umbrella body?

We talk about MTUC being the umbrella body - from time to time, We talk about MTUC being the umbrella body - from time to time, we raise all the workers’ challenges, as well as issues to the government’s attention..

One good example is the minimum wage issue; it’s the struggle of MTUC over the last more than 50 years. But through our concerted struggle, we managed to get, first time in the history of Malaysia, where the government introduced the Minimum Wage Act in 2012 and minimum wage was then introduced. It is the work of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.

As well as the retirement age - prior to 2014, there was no retirement age in the Employment Act. It’s just that the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Act says you can withdraw your EPF savings at 55 - that became an understanding where an employee works until 55. Whereas now there is a law which states that the minimum retirement age is 60. That’s another achievement of MTUC which represents all the workers in the country.

Apart from this, from time to time we raise a lot of issues. Some have been taken care of, but there’s also many more that needs to be done in this country. At the moment we are negotiating with the Human Resources Ministry about employment insurance.

As of now, closing of operations overnight is becoming very rampant and common, we need to have some sort of, not to say protection - the employment insurance is not going to protect anyone - but at least it will assist those employees (who) have been retrenched until they get another employment.

What is MTUC’s stand on foreign workers’ hiring policy?

We are not denying that a country like Malaysia needs foreign workers. They should also be treated as workmen and given the same rights as Malaysian workers. But what we are seeing at the moment is employers are favouring foreign over local workers. That, MTUC finds it difficult to absolve them.

Four months ago, MTUC sent a protest memorandum to the Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry when they wanted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Bangladeshi government to bring in an additional 1.5 million foreign workers to the country.

Apart from the 2.2 million documented migrant workers, I think we have more than five million undocumented migrant workers and a majority of them enter the country with documents. (For) various reasons best known to the employers and migrant workers, they become undocumented.

I will easily say that the contract has been changed. What they have been promised in the country of origin, when they come here, the contracts have been changed; the terms are not the same especially in terms of wages.

And of course this group of workers is not rich. If they are rich they won’t come to Malaysia. They are poor, they sold or mortgaged their property to come here with the intention they can earn and go back to their country. But the promises made are not the same and they are in that desperate situation so they choose to work somewhere else to earn extra money because the levy is too high for them.

Employers are also deducting lodging provided by them after implementing minimum wage. There are also occasions where employers refuse to pay salary by withholding the salary for a few months. So how (do these workers) survive? So they disappear and work elsewhere, at least they would have some cash.

MTUC is requesting the government to resolve this undocumented migrant workers (issue) first before it brings in additional workers. Although the government has said that it is withholding the MOU (on the bringing in of 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers), if you go to the airport, all flights from the source country are still full.

Our fear is that, (since) foreign workers are coming to do some skilled and semi-skilled jobs, at least 400,000 Malaysian skilled workers would be affected by this. This is our concern, this is why, to stop employers from giving priority to foreign workers, MTUC is urging the government to have a system in which foreign workers should enjoy the same benefits as Malaysian workers, and for the levy to be paid by employers.

The argument is very simple. Employers are recruiting foreign workers because they are claiming there are not enough workers here. If that’s the argument, then the employer should pay the levy, not the poor foreign workers.

Also, on another issue related to forced labour where employers withhold the passports of foreign workers. They say that migrant workers complain that their passports were being stolen. One employer put forward this question to me and my answer is simple. Every day we read about money being stolen from ATMs but are banks stopping from installing additional ATMs? They are still installing, (and) they have to take preventive (action).

In this modern world, I don’t think that’s the reason to hold on to passports because they don’t want to give migrant workers the freedom to move around.

‘Major culprit recruitment agencies’

You said that all flights from source countries are full, this is based on...?

Just go there (airport) and stand, we can see all the flights. Sometimes we go somewhere and when we are coming back, traveling with them, most say they don’t know where they are going to work, but agents told them there is employment.

The major culprit in this process is recruitment agencies. At one time we had more than 270 agencies. With pressure from MTUC, it has been reduced to over 100. The government should abolish this third party contract system. If the employer is having difficulties to get workers, he or she must go in under his or her own name rather than a third party.

But the real issue in this situation is whether employers are willing to pay decent salary to workers. That’s why MTUC emphasises that the rights and benefits must be the same. For example, Social Security Organisation (Socso) is not extended to migrant workers; initially it was extended (to them). Migrant workers should be protected under Socso.

At the moment they are under the Workmen’s Compensation. According to our research, the compensation paid by this insurance is less than 5 percent of the premium they are collecting. (If) less than 5 percent, then what sort of protection are they giving? A bare minimum. There are cases where the dead body would have reached the country of origin and the family still needs to pay some money to the agent.

Medical cost has already taken up all the Workmen’s Compensation benefits. That’s why we are requesting - put them under Socso.

Also, why not deduct Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions (for migrant workers)? When they go back to their country, they will withdraw their savings - that should not be a problem. Then the government will know the exact number of foreign workers. At the moment they don’t have (the figures). That’s why they should allow migrant workers to be under Socso and EPF.

Speaking of EPF contributions and benefits, is MTUC satisfied with the current practice?

When we checked with those retiring at the age of 60, their savings are not enough. The problem is not so much on the percentage, it is very much on what is Malaysian salary. Over the past 20 years, salaries have not increased. According to statistics, more than 65 percent of Malaysian families’ total income is less than RM3,500.

Of course if there is an opportunity, we would appreciate it if the employer’s contribution is improved. But we are not in the position to increase (our contribution).

(Also), we are not happy that the government decided to reduce the EPF contribution. The system has to be changed. The current system is that whenever there is reduction in contribution, those who are unhappy must write in. That is a wrong concept. If the system is reversed, EPF will know the percentage of those not willing to reduce (their contributions).

Malaysians at the end of the day remain as Malaysians, they don’t take the trouble to notify EPF (about their unhappiness). We are not happy with the reduction but when we raised the matter with EPF, they said this is the directive and if one is not happy, he or she should write in.

And we still maintain that EPF contributions should be withdrawn at the age of 55 although one can work until 60, so that workers can repay their housing loans.

Read more:

Malaysiakini, 14/10/2016

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