Malaysiakini Letter

Time to do away with master-servant relationship

Ronald Benjamin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | In the capitalist system that Malaysia has inherited from the British since independence, we tend to have an employment contractual agreement that is framed within the perspective of master-servant relationships.

It is settled in law that the employee is required at all times to act in a faithful manner and not place himself in a position where his actions can breach the trust relationship between an employer and an employee. If the employee does an act which is inconsistent with the fiduciary relationship with the employer, then it will be an act of bad faith for which his service can be terminated.

This is reinforced in the context of Asian values where the overall rights of the community and development of the country takes precedence over individual rights.

This is cemented by authoritarian power that tolerates no dissent while forging strong partnership between the Government and the private sector.

In the larger context of the global economic there is a worrying trend where comprehensive partnership of nations is the rule of the day where corporate and government interests merge with rules of trade that basically reinforces master-servant relationship in the name of progress. The belt and road initiatives led by China and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) led by Japan and Australia are examples of trends where government and business play a pivotal role shaping the vision of industrial relations.

It is in this evolving political, social and cultural contextual that started from colonial rule to this day that employers in this country have structured their contract of employment on the basis of a master-servant relationship.

Is this not reason that issues like minimum wages become contentious when in fact, there could be a broader partnership between employer and employees by engaging creatively on compensation and benefits that could minimise the fix cost that comes with minimum wage?

Would it not be better for employer and employee to work within a partnership framework where there could be a structural transition to high-value chain in creating higher value products through a focus on human capital development?

The current terms and conditions of employment of unionised and non-unionised workers basically spells out the obligations of the workers without mentioning the reciprocal relationship that would create trust which is vital for organisation to progress in context of digital age.

It is obvious that the master-servant relationship seems to hold sway even though much changes have taken place in the horizontal chain of technological and knowledge domain where collaboration through partnerships, between employer and employee, is seen as a way forward in enhancing human capital development that would uplift the social economic progress of the country in the long run.

Therefore it vital for the Human Resources Ministry to review the current tripartite understanding of industrial relations through dialogue with industry representatives and unions and come up with fresh air of a new enlightening philosophy and vision of industrial relations. It should evolve from a master-servant relationship to a partnership that would create a sense of trust and belonging which is vital in creating a context for human capital development.

There is a single obsession with minimum wage which has restrained the capacity to collaborate with larger interest of the nation in mind. There is a need to create a new impetus to fiduciary relationship which has to work both ways.

In this new order, fiduciary is not merely about the obligations of the employee in working faithfully for his employer; it also means that the employer should also faithfully play a role in creating opportunities for development of the workforce that would lead to a positive win-win situation.

Industrial relations need a new philosophy and vision that does away with master-servant relationships.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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