Malaysiakini Letter

Human rights and dignity for all; decent work for all

Howard Lee Chuan How  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Why Decent Work?

In June 1999, the then secretary-general of the International Labour Orgnisation (ILO), introduced a new and progressive concept; one that not only summarised the challenges and aspirations or workers, but also sparked their imaginations and solidarity with each other worldwide; Decent Work.

Decent work, as defined by the ILO, is work that returns a fair income and ensures workplace security and social protection for families. It is also work that hold prospects for personal development, social integration as well as social mobility that guarantees workers’ freedom to express and organise. Finally, decent work incorporates the social-democratic value of universal equality, in opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

What is World Day for Decent Work?

The concept gained political salience and traction amongst Progressives, centre-left to left political parties, workers’ rights activists, unions and organisations against the social background then, and continued to do so exponentially in the following years.

This culminated in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in 2008, announcing that  Oct 7 thereafter would be World Day for Decent Work (WDDW), and  the world over has been commemorating it ever since.

On the WDDW, trade unions and workers’ rights groups worldwide mobilise their members to raise awareness of workers’ rights. Research shows that only 7 percent of the world’s workers are unionised, or are part of any organised collective bargaining body to represent and or protect them at a time of need. This draws attention to the profound importance of the role these organisations play in society, and the urgent need for their implementation the world over.

This year, the WDDW is themed Green Economy’. This is based on the undeniable fact that we, regardless of whether at a local, national, regional or global level are operating predominantly under an economic model that is destroying jobs and the planet. Workers have the ability, rights, and the responsibility to change that.

Challenges ahead, today and moving forward

In this day in age, especially in our Malaysian context, the people feel that they have very little say or influence over the government, the economy or corporations; all three of which are growth obsessive and inequitably so unfortunately. Insecurities brought forth due to unemployment, the vast and ever growing income disparity, continues to plague communities at all level and ultimately contributing towards social and economic instability.

“People no longer believe governments act to protect workers. Building workers’ power is essential to change a system stacked against workers,” says ITUC secretary-general Sharan Burrow.

We would like to hereby express our wholehearted solidarity with MAS and their workers over the post-crisis challenges, with the double tragedies of MH 370 and MH17 being huge contributory factors towards a massively invasive restructure of up to 6000 jobs axed.

It must however, not be forgotten that four members including the president of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) were sacked in connection with a statement made to the media by the union, which amongst others suggested that MAS’s chief executive officer (CEO) should resign. DAP condemns this course of ‘union busting’, and the government must give the ultimate answer to this, as MAS is a government-linked company.

In Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB), we are experiencing a slightly less severe yet chilling parallel with the federal government’s current heavy-handed approach to stifling dissent, what with the mounting sedition charges being dished out.

In this more recent, but equally disturbing case of overt ‘union-busting’, where 56 members of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) affiliate unions have has disciplinary action taken against them for taking part in a picket on May 9, 2014. Out of these, 40 were terminated with sixteen others suspended for taking part in a demonstration against the company.

Sources indicate that KTMB sacked eight more unionists after the Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya (RUM)’s president and his deputy were terminated boot recently on Aug 29.

These sackings are the results of a picket staged by the railwaymen on May 9 to exert pressure on KTMB president Elias Kadir to resign following the company’s dismal performance during under his watch. Section 40 of the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) 1967 is very clear that the right to picket belongs to the union. The management cannot sack union members for picketing as that is a legitimate activity and the right of union workers.

DAP condemns this archaic and illegal sacking of workers who are but exercising their legally ordained right. Again, KTMB is a government-linked company and the government must answer.

Union-busting must stop; it is not only illegal but it is unconstitutional and it must unequivocally stop now.

The regional picture

The brewing regional financial crisis as a result of QE3 tapering, several financial bubbles on the verge of bursting; and at a national level the looming rise of interest rates, ever increasing cost of fuel and other commodities and very soon, the introduction of GST; force Malaysians to re- think their own place in this globalised world and about their jobs and their futures. More than ever, Malaysians need Decent Work to ensure Malaysia continue to prosper.

We are seeing a huge number of Malaysians, with the current gloomy economic prospects In Asia turning to migration by necessity and not by choice. Conversely, similarly due to the inability of the Malaysian government to affect reform in the local workforce, migrant workers are playing an increasingly large role in the Malaysian economy.

The Asean community must in the name of human rights and solidarity with all Asean migrants come up with much more stringent and significant multilateral agreements to stem abuse of migrants in the name of trade competitiveness.

We believe that a rights-based approach to labour migration is the key to the promotion of decent work for migrant workers. Governments need to ratify and implement the eight core ILO labour conventions as well as monitor and enforce them. Moreover, we push for the ratification and implementation of international binding standards that are immediately relevant to migrant workers:

  • Convention 97 on Migration for Employment (Revised);
  • Convention 143 on Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions);
  • Convention 181 on Private Employment Agencies;
  • 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;
  • Protocols against Human Trafficking;
  • Regional agreements like the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.
Regional efforts within Asean to push for ratification amongst member nations must be a priority heading towards the Asean regional economic integration by 2015.

Urging to Action

Let’s all rally together in solidarity on this auspicious day, to call for the government to dispose of their archaic and unjust approach to persecuting and oppressing those exercising their constitutionally prescribed rights to express and organise; and all workers join hands to strike a global deal with all stakeholders, towards a safer, brighter, more equitable and socially just Green economy, at home and worldwide

WDDW this year, in our capacity as Social Democrats who champion for Social and Economic Justice for all, DAP urges Unions and Progressive to mobilise not just to support the rights of other workers - we urge all men and women region-wide here in Asean, working or seeking-work, to stand in solidarity with each other in calling for Human Rights and Dignity for All; Decent Work for All.


HOWARD LEE CHUAN HOW is executive secretary to DAP Malaysia’s International Affairs Bureau.

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