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Labour unions or trade unions are organizations formed by workers from related fields that work for the common interest of its members. Trade unions are instrumental in creating and strengthening collective bargaining power between employees and employers. A good relationship between the trade unions and employers will helps employees to enjoy more benefits and see better pay proportionately with the increased of productivity. In addition, a strong trade union will make sure the rights of the workers are not violated by the employers, besides trade union can be a medium to boost labour productivity.
The recognition of trade unions in Malaysia is governed by the Trade Unions Act 1959 and Industrial Relation Act 1967. A trade union that wishes to represent a group of workers of similar trade, industry or occupation must fulfil the conditions listed under Section 9 of IRA 1967 before they can participate in the collective bargaining with employers. There are 591 unions in Malaysia, with a membership of approximately 800,000. In Malaysia, the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a federation of trade unions registered under the Societies Act, 1955. It is the oldest National Centre representing Malaysian workers.
In Malaysia, the freedom of association is prescribed in the Federal Constitution. Previous experience on the communist threat in Malaysia had taught the state government to control the trade union activities for the security of the Federation. The worker in Malaysia is allowed to form and join a trade union. However, it is not absolute. There are various restrictions have been imposed on the trade union movement for the nation’s interest. Unfortunately, the limits have contributed to the lengthy and complicated trade union recognition process and it directly impedes the trade union’s right to collective bargaining.
In the year 2017, the trade union movement seems to be weakening, with the number of unions and unionized workers steadily decreasing. According to the Trade Union Affairs Department, only 6% out of 14.5 million workers in the country, are currently union members. In addition, the private sector also shows a marked decrease which only have 359,206 during that year. Malaysian trade union and labour laws fall far short of minimum international standards.
At the one time, Malaysia wanted to be a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, but TPPA itself was perceived to be a threat to labour rights. Malaysia should make significant amendments to its labour laws to bring it up to par with minimum human rights and worker rights standards as one of the preconditions in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Although the government promised to implement some of the provisions of the TPPA, there is no amendments have been made to labour laws.
When there are violations of workers or trade union rights, many of Malaysian unions choose to lodge complaints with the relevant government institutions which takes for many years instead of choosing to do the complaints through pickets, strikes or campaigns against employers. Even though the workers and unions do win, but the remedies are weak and not affected the employers but the only victims are workers and unions because of the appeal process takes so many years and it may risk the worker.
In the case of Malaysia Airlines, when 20,000 its employees had been sent out a termination letter. Of that number, 6,000 employees had their contracts terminated while 14,000 were offered employment with the Malaysia Airline Bhd. Although MAS had a term and conditions on their previous collective agreement, it can’t be a guarantee for workers if the terms do not allow for MAB to do that. The workers may choose to stay or be terminated if they do not agree to the new collective agreement made by MAB. In other words, “When you are employees, you are governed by contract of service. So, what governed the relationship between employer and employee is the contract that they signed. So, if you don’t agree, you don’t accept the offer.”
Referring back to the TPPA issues, there are some issues arise that may concern among the workers after the implementation of TPPA such as a threat to the security of employment, where precarious employment practices are being encouraged through such trade agreements; offshoring and outsourcing of the work has become far more prevalent, with the cost of displacement of those impacted being ignored; an adverse impact on the family and social life, as a consequence of the increasing economic strain and so on. There are so many questions during the announcement of the previous Prime Minister who wanted to implement the TPPA, the most concern matter is the fate of the workers.
The labour organizations, such as the AFL-CIO and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, should have played their major role in the negotiation process. In addition, a more inclusive approach is required, taking into account the need to raise the standard and quality of life of everyone and not just the elite class. An agreement such as the TPPA should also have high on its agenda of minimum labour standards, if the trade is growing according to the estimations there should be no reason why better minimum labour standards cannot be worked out for all the signatory nations. Every matter such as minimum wage, hours of work, maternity benefits and rights, trade union protection, collective bargaining rights and so on should be covered by the agreement. If all the matters can’t be affordable by the signatory nation, Malaysia should take into consideration about the pros and cons about the implementation of TPPA towards the needs of workers in Malaysia in terms of labour law.
In conclusion, there are so many issues that we can describe under the Trade Union Act 1959 in Malaysia. In my consideration, the issues of labour law should be reviewed carefully and should be discussed among the expertise and labour organizations. In terms of labour issues, many of the workers may be suppressed by their employers and this would make the trade unions involved in solving the issues that arise among the employees and employers. Malaysia should be clear in many aspects such as minimum wage, hours of work, maternity benefits and rights, trade union protection, collective bargaining rights of the workers and so on to achieve the agreement between workers, unions, labour organizations and employers. On other words, it is easy to blame the government and existing laws, but if workers and unions are not ready to fight for better rights together, then the legislative hurdles to overcome will only get taller.
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