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‘Human rights abuses should not go unpunished’

The reports involving the allegation that a carrier, Malindo Air, required prospective female cabin crew attendants to strip as part of the interview process has to be categorised as a human rights violation. If media reports are accurate and it did happen the way it was reported, it takes us back to the dark ages where workers were treated no better than chattel.

We would all like to think that the human race has progressed, but this teaches us that there is still a lot of work to be done.

It also points towards how women are treated within the employment context and the place they are accorded. The reported response by the company, again if true as reported, is appalling and shows total disrespect to workers in the country and especially towards female workers.

Should a woman with a scar or a pimple be discriminated against? The fact that the company can argue that they have the right to do what they did point towards the woeful inadequacy of the labour laws in the country. This is apart from the sordid mentality of those who indulge in and subsequently justify such actions.

Expecting employers to do the right thing by themselves in acting in a responsible and humane manner is a failed proposition. It will only lead to a race to the bottom - where in the name of profits employee rights and wages will only be diminished over time.

More stringent laws and regulations are needed. Companies that dehumanise workers should be more easily brought to book. Just how many women had been subjected to such dehumanisation in the Malindo affair before it was exposed? The fact that the company can try to explain itself out of the situation is in itself a disgrace and a further violation of human rights.

There should have been an unreserved and unqualified apology on their part, with a firm commitment to correct their practices.

In spite of the efforts over decades to stifle the trade union movement by the government and employers in the country, this matter was only given the exposure it deserves because of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC). MTUC’s secretary-general, J Solomon, had urged a criminal probe and the police should look at the matter to examine as to whether there had been any criminal violation.

The larger question which needs to be addressed is as to whether there are similar typed abuses that workers or members of society are being subjected to. A tightening of the labour laws of the country is needed, which would require the government to consult and partner with the MTUC. Efforts in this direction should be undertaken immediately.

Globally, a workers’ backlash is being experienced against the neo-liberal economic and trade agenda. Malaysia would do well to work towards striking the right balance and ensuring that the rights of workers in Malaysia are adequate.

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