The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is disappointed with the loss of jobs for workers at toll booths, by reason of automation or the ‘electronic toll collection’ (ETC) system. Many local workers, especially women workers, have lost their jobs by this move by highway toll operators. The Malaysian government failed to protect employment of workers, when these companies choose to do away with human workers in favour of automation.
Many local workers prefer to be with and stay with their families in their hometowns, especially women workers, and jobs as toll operators at nearby toll booth was a real option for many of these workers, especially those living in smaller towns and rural areas.
In the past, many local workers were willing to migrate to larger towns for work but by reason of the low wages, increased cost of living and poor quality of life, many workers have moved back to their smaller hometowns and rural communities. Working at tool booths was a real option for many of these workers, and the government should have done the needful to ensure that these employment opportunities were preserved.
It must also be noted despite the existence of Smartcard and Touch ‘n Go lanes at toll booths, a large number of people still used the cash payment lanes. This also was used by taxis and other vehicles that were charged different rates compared to normal users. For many workers still, employers still do insist on receipts before reimbursement for travel is paid.
Pre-paid cards only benefit one travel card companies, being Touch ‘n Go, and for many low-waged workers whose regular income is also uncertain, by reason of the unchecked increase of precarious employments in Malaysia and the growing increase of loss of regular employments, prefer the ‘pay as you use’ method.
This gives the worker real access and control to the money in hand. He prefers not to paying in advance money that is effectively stuck and irretrievable with ease in your Touch n Go cards. This preference can also be seen by many in Malaysia who still avoid regular auto-payment methods, preferring rather to make cash payments when the bill arrives.
Likewise, the preference to use pre-paid, rather than being obligated to pay higher fixed rates for their telephony needs - noting that many a time they upload small amounts, and when money is tight
There are only about 4.5 percent of the workers in the private sector in Malaysia that are unionised. With the growing rise of precarious employment practices, including the usage of short-term contracts and the usage of workers of third parties at the workplace, freedom of association is becoming a right that exist but effectively difficult to claim and benefit for many workers in Malaysia.
No longer practical and just
The existing restriction in law now only allow trade unions, especially national and regional trade unions, for workers ‘within any similar trades, occupations or industries’ is no longer practical or just - the time has come to liberalise these strict requirement, enabling for the formation and registration of trade unions of workers in the private sector within particular geographical areas irrespective of what sector, trade or industry that they work for.
This will also enable workers with employers with smaller workforce to finally enjoy freedom of association and be members of trade unions.
Currently, national and regional trade unions’ attempts to organise and represent workers in a particular workplace is also often defeated by employers who argue that their employees do not fall within the scope of the said particular union - the time may have come to liberalise this in favour of allowing workers the full right of freedom of association. If workers choose a particular union to represent them, that choice must be respected and not be defeated by existing law.
The Malaysian government needs to ensure that employment opportunities are not lost by reason of automation or otherwise, especially where it concerns local workers, more so in town and rural areas. MTUC urges the government to reverse or restrict this current move by highway operators to replace human workers in favour of automation.
N GOPAL KISHNAM is secretary-general, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC).