After almost four decades of struggle, union advocates are finally seeing light following the Cabinet's approval for the setting up of trade unions in the electronic sector.
In a statement today, the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) announced that the cabinet had on May 27 last year approved, for the first time, the formation of non-internal trade unions for the electronic sector.
"The MTUC had repeatedly sort to negotiate with the human resource minister and finally the ministry agreed to the formation of state-level trade unions in negotiations with the sponsor committee," it said.
However the committee represented by the Electronic Industry Workers' Union Sponsor (KSIE), Bruno Periera and MTUC president Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud had insisted on a national-level trade union for the industry.
"In a compromise, the sponsor committee members agreed to the formation of regional unions as a solution," added the statement.
Following the decision, the statement revealed that three regional unions have thus far been registered with the Department of Trade Union Affairs for the western, southern and northen regions with an eastern region union due to be registered soon.
The formation of trade unions in the electronic industry had been prohibited by the Cabinet when the industry first took root in the 1970s with the exception of internal unions within the respective companies.
According to the statement, in 2007, there were some 365 electronic companies in Malaysia which hired close to 290,000 workers but only 12,000 workers were registered as internal union members.
No wage increases
"It can be said that there have been no wage increase for workers in the electronic industry since the early 1970s with most workers working as operators earning a base pay of about RM450 a month," read the statement.
With the formation of new unions for the electronic industry, it hopes that the rights and welfare of workers within the sector can be improved.
The struggle for the a trade union in the electronic industry began as early as 1973, with the Electrical Industry Workers Union (EIWU) attempting to recruit members from the electronic sector.
However the move was denied by the government which said that the electronic industry is a separate sector from the electrical industry, making Malaysia one of the rare countries that differentiates the sectors.
The move left electronic workers without the right to the formation of a national union, and had to resort to internal unions.
The internal unions were not spared of problems, as there were instances where companies deliberately change its registration number to cause the internal unions to be deregistered.