A total revamp of industrial relations needed

Callistus Antony D’Angelus


LETTER | There has been a lot of debate recently on the industrial relations system in the country, which is necessarily a good thing as the current system in place is outdated and is not serving the Malaysian public well enough. Controversy has also not been far away, where the Minister of Human Resources has been embroiled in a spat with the leaders of the MTUC.

The industrial relations system in the country has, to a large extent, been framed to serve the interest of the government in power. The inordinate influence that the minister and the various departments and agencies within the Ministry of Human Resources makes for a lop-sided equation, which businesses have taken advantage of at the expense of the rakyat

Though the country’s economy had grown, as can be measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and other economic indicators over the years, there has been a growing income and wealth inequality, increased level of precarious employment practices, and a diminution of employment protection. The B40 population, especially with the revelations of a recent UN study, are in all likelihood living in poverty.

The time has come to look at a total revamp of the industrial relations mechanism in the country, where the government, the trade union movement and employers are genuinely equal partners in the tripartite relationship. At present, the tripartite system is tokenistic in nature, where the government holds sway in a system that has been set up to cater to a dictatorial regime. 

The position of the minister and that of the Ministry of Human Resources should be more of a facilitator and to ensure that the socially and economically disadvantaged are adequately represented and protected.

The Trade Unions Department, which functions under the auspices of the Ministry of Human Resources, has for a long time ensured that trade unions remain subservient to the dictates of the government. It is one of the main reasons as to why the trade union movement has been largely crippled. This has led to not just a case of institutionalized abuse of power but is also a form of corruption in itself.

P Ramasamy, deputy chief minister of Penang, must be commended for proposing a more substantive role for the MTUC and trade unions. At present, the system brooks no dissent in the real sense and whenever the MTUC or leaders within the MTUC take on the government of the day, the government will bear its fangs.

It would seem like ministers, whether from the previous BN government or the present Pakatan Harapan government, take it personally whenever a trade union or trade union leader exercises an independent view that takes on the government’s position. 

MTUC leaders such as the late V David, G Rajasekaran, Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, and AH Ponniah had previously borne the ire of ministers and even prime ministers when pursuing the cause of the downtrodden worker.

The amendments to the labour laws of the country which are currently the source of the dispute must be examined outside of the lens of partisan politics. There is undeniably good in what is being proposed, and which is long overdue. However, it has also to be recognised that it is being done within the construct of an altogether flawed system. A system that still does not recognise the true benefits of an independent trade union movement, as an example.

Any argument made that the amendments are only being made because the Harapan government is in power misses the point if we were to give it the benefit of good intent to those making it. Otherwise, it points towards the same type of patriarchal and corrupt approach that was previously used by the BN government. 

Harapan has been put in power by the people to make such changes. Minus that, why would the people have voted for Harapan? Harapan is not doing the people of Malaysia any favours.

Harapan seems to have painted itself into a corner, especially in exhibiting its arrogance when faced with opposition to its policies. Does it not remember the years it spent in opposition and the way the then BN government crippled the opposition through abuse of state power?

We are fortunate to have people like Ramasamy, who despite being a senior member of the ruling coalition, is putting himself out there to provide alternative views and proposals.

The Harapan government should immediately call for a formal inquiry to investigate the issues affecting workers in the country and seek to institute a system that would replace the broken one that is in place. 

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

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