Malaysiakini Letter

Simplistic to criticise Kula for Industrial Court's timeframe

Ronald Benjamin

LETTER | The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress' (MTUC) statement that the Industrial Court allegedly abdicated its jurisdiction to comply with the Human Resources minister's seems to suggest the minister controls the jurisdiction of the court.

Division secretary K Veeriah said this in reference to Kapar MP Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid's parliamentary address on July 17, in which he touched on the conduct of the Industrial Court chairperson in a case involving Megasteel Sdn Bhd.

He said the court’s key performance index to dispose of cases within 12 months was unfair to former Megasteel Sdn Bhd employees, and strongly urged Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran to investigate the matter.

It is common knowledge of those who have been following this case that its genesis began on Oct 28, 2016 when then Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Jaem referred the case to the industrial court.

The case was only disposed on July 1, 2019. Why was there such a delay?

If one looks at the contents of the award, there have been too many adjournments that do not make sense.

It also surprising that the Penang MTUC has not advised the claimants to appeal to the High Court on its restraining order, and instead blamed the minister.

It is obvious that the statement by the division secretary seems simplistic and far-fetched.

The issue here is not merely about the minister’s jurisdiction. It is about how justice has been dispensed over the years that has created a backlog in the Industrial Court and justice that seems to come too late.

It is in this context that the minister has come up with the KPI to expedite cases in a timely and efficient manner.

As I see it, there is no correlation in expediating justice in a reasonable time and the independence of the Industrial Court.

Justice delayed is justice denied

I don’t see the logic in Veeriah's statement that the period given for dispensing justice constitutes an interference with the process of justice.

Administrative efficiency and justice move in tandem; the minister is in charge of administration.

If a shorter timeframe for dispensing justice is unjust, why has there been complains among victims of injustice that the Industrial Courts take a long time to dispense justice, and the remedies that come later seems to be irrelevant?

The maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied” holds true in the Industrial Court.

Any aggrieved employee will want an early resolution of his case - whether to get the right compensation or to be reinstated -  so that he can move on with life.

As then US Chief Justice of the Warren E Burger noted in an address to the American Bar Association in 1970: "A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of ordered liberty for a free people and three things could destroy that confidence and do incalculable damage to society: That people come to believe that inefficiency and delay will drain even a just judgment of its value."

The issue is not whether the Industrial Court could function effectively without the minister’s jurisdiction; it is about the type of people, and whether there is efficiency in the processes of Industrial Courts to dispense justice.

It is a systemic issue. Even though the structural independence of courts is desirable for checks and balance, if there is a lack of integrity and efficiency in the people in authority, any structural changes would only be academic.

Therefore, to criticise the human resources minister for coming up with a timeframe to resolve cases in the Industrial Court is simplistic in the complex terrain of the judicial process.

While structural changes are good for effective checks and balance in dispensing justice for employers and employees as Veeriah suggested, a delay in coming up with judgements and awards would create frustration among victims.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

The minister is right in coming with a timeframe to dispense justice at the Industrial Court.

In reality, it is basically a guidance rather than a rule.

What is needed is to analyse the entire timeframe of dispensing justice and coming with a process to reduce procedural and human inefficiency.

The writer is the secretary of the Association for Community and Dialogue.

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

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