INTERVIEW Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Jaem's performance has left Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general N Gopal Kishnam wondering if he knows what his responsibilities are.
The ministry, he said, had yet to respond to MTUC's proposed amendments to the current labour laws - amendments that it confirmed receiving from the congress two years ago.
“It is more than two years, the Human Resources Ministry said that it had received (the proposed amendments) and is still studying them.
“In between that, the ministry’s secretary-general has already changed three times and the document is still there,” said Gopal in an interview with Malaysiakini.
This showed that the ministry was not serious in listening to the workers' plight, he said.
“Why do I say that? The government didn’t bother to listen to (proposed) amendments to our labour laws.
“They made some amendments but on most occasions, the employers are not listening to the employees,” he said.
Despite meetings held between MTUC and the ministry, Gopal said the union’s requests were not heeded simply because the “trade union density” in the country was very low.
“It’s not that workers are not keen to join trade unions, but the system has been structured in such a way that it’s not easy to form a union in every workplace,” he said.
In the following excerpt, Gopal talks about the formation of unions as well as the issue of minimum wage and labour laws in the country.
What is the process to register a trade union?
Why trade unions never improved in Malaysia is simply because of the regulations. Registering a trade union in this country is very easy; all we need is only seven workers. Get the standard application form from the Human Resources Ministry and the group just needs to fill in the blanks and they can apply to register a union.
But getting recognition from employers is the problem. To represent workers, you must first get recognition from the employer. And 99 percent of employers will not give the recognition.
Subsequently, the union has to report the matter to the Industrial Relations Department. The department will ascertain the right union for the group of workers and whether the union has the majority of workers supporting it.
Whether this is the right union or not, the department … to ascertain the majority of workers (support the union), they must conduct a secret ballot. To conduct a secret ballot, there is the ‘B form’ which indicates the number of employees who are working in that workplace on the day the union sought recognition.
The officer will take a very long time to submit this form - sometimes it takes two years. For the secret ballot, the department will fix a day for everyone to come and vote whether they want the union or not.
The issue is this - if the secret ballot is conducted after two years, some workers would have left the employment and migrant workers would have even gone back to their country of origin. If they don’t come to vote, that would be construed as voting against the union.
It took the ministry three years to conduct a secret ballot for one company; by the time the secret ballot was conducted, 50 percent of the migrant workers had already left. MTUC is pushing the minister to change this for many years (but) until today, the minister is not changing the regulations...