COMMENT | The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) acknowledges the salient improvements to the Industrial Relations Act 1967 brought about by the Amendment Bill to Act 177 that was passed in Dewan Rakyat early this month, which will help boost union density in the country while seemingly endeavouring to bring the country’s labour legislation in conformity with international labour standards. Kudos to the hardworking team in the Ministry of Human Resources and its minister M Kulasegaran.
Although, the amendments may reflect efforts by the Pakatan Harapan government in keeping its promise to enhance and improve workers’ protection in the country, the government must not rest on its laurels as these amendments are only the first step in the right direction toward ensuring that the protection of all workers anywhere in the country is on par with international standards.
Several administrative changes to this legislation as was promised by Kulasegaran were implemented and did not go unnoticed by the LLRC, especially the amendments to the procedure that will speed up the referrals of wrongful dismissal cases and collective agreement disputes to the Industrial Court. It is in the best interests of all parties involved that the minister takes steps to ensure that the Industrial Court plays its part.
Here we remind Kulasegaran of the disappointment he expressed, during a meeting with the LLRC, over the union membership count in the country that has not risen above the one million par and highlights the importance for the need to ensure that appropriate amendments are made to the Trade Union Act 1959 to remove current clauses which allow the director-general of trade unions to make capricious decisions that have remained the main obstacle to the growth of trade unions in the country.
One common tool of intimidation constantly used by employers is "termination of employment". As such the clause in the Second Schedule of this legislation that caps the award of back wages for an employee who had successfully won a wrongful dismissal case to a maximum of 24 months, does not deter employers from giving workers the sack at their whim as the sum is very easily affordable to employers.
It is the employee who will suffer without wages as such cases can drag on for more than two years. We propose the new amendment that enables the Industrial Court to make an award by not confining to the restrictions in the Second Schedule in the event the dismissal is due to union-busting, to be extended to any form of wrongful dismissal, thus deleting the said clause in the legislation.
Another worrying amendment in the legislation was the ministry’s move to increase penalties for those involved in illegal strikes despite the fact that there have not been any strikes in the country over the past three decades.
Certain MTUC leaders are a sell-out to workers as they have failed in their primary role to act in the best interests of workers in the country. They have failed repeatedly to involve the general council, the body empowered by the MTUC constitution to decide on important matters that involve the fate of workers in the country.
Their blatant disregard for workers’ welfare is evident even at this crucial time when labour law reforms are taking shape and MTUC leaders have not deemed it necessary to convene a meeting of the MTUC general council. Their move to approach opposition political party leaders to reject the amendments to the Industrial Relations Act at the Upper House was not authorised by the general council and therefore their actions are clearly unconstitutional – and is viewed as a threat to workers’ welfare in the country.
MTUC's top leaders are guilty of treating the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) as some kind of sideshow to which unauthorised persons were allowed to represent MTUC while those appointed in accordance to its constitution were sidelined to mute voices that spoke up for changes that would improve union density in the country.
These leaders placed importance on overseas trips that had nothing to do with labour law reforms taking place in Malaysia and by being conspicuously absent at most NLAC meetings allowed for workers’ voice to be muted where and when it mattered the most. By rejecting the importance of deliberations at the NLAC, they have used their role in leadership to shortchange workers of their rights.
If at every instance, the government should follow lame demands such as the argument that “without arriving at a consensus between MTUC and Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), the government should not have gone ahead with the amendments”, then we would not have a national minimum wage, a minimum retirement age, an employment insurance system and many other benefits.
These are examples of how, in practice, the government is able to arrive at a middle ground on issues relating to labour, and leaders who fail to recognise this are not fit leaders for the workforce of the country.
We wish to remind the leaders in MTUC and all those listening to these few that all proposals put forward to the ministry on labour law reforms, their criticisms and their decision to campaign for the support of opposition political parties to reject the amendments to the Industrial Relations Act at the Senate are unauthorised and unconstitutional.
The MTUC general council has not convened a single meeting in more than 20 months whereas the MTUC constitution mandatorily requires the general council to meet at least once every two months. This violation of MTUC rules has been reported to the Registrar of Societies (ROS) four months ago by a number of affiliates.
The Labour Law Reform Coalition is endorsed by 64 trade unions.
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