‘Irresponsible’ to amend labour laws without consulting us, says Yong

Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee says stakeholders in the state must be consulted before amending the Sabah Labour Ordinance. (Gambar Bernama)

KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee today called the human resources ministry “irresponsible” over its plans to amend the Sabah Labour Ordinance.

The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president said the federal government has a legal and political duty to consult the state government, employers’ associations, chambers of commerce, trade unions and other stakeholders before amending the ordinance or any labour policies affecting the state.

“This is because the federal law on labour matters in Sabah is not the federal Employment Act but the Sabah Labour Ordinance. It is a ‘Sabah law declared federal’, which means the federal law is unique to Sabah.

“It is risky and irresponsible for a federal minister to propose changes to the Sabah Labour Ordinance without consulting Sabah stakeholders,” Yong told reporters yesterday.

In a statement earlier, the Sabah Employers Association claimed it was not aware of the proposed amendments to the ordinance, which Human Resource Minister M Kulasegaran said would be tabled in Parliament soon.

The notable amendments include the 44-hour working week (10% reduction in hours), wages to be paid through financial institutions only, deleting the annual 60 days’ accumulated sick leave rule and allowing flexible working arrangements without stipulating the mechanism.

Yong said it was shocking that the federal government had proposed to amend the ordinance without first consulting the association as one of the key stakeholders.

“Let me remind the federal and Sabah governments that Sabah in the 1990s had rejected the proposed extension of the Federal Employment Act because the state had all along insisted on retaining some autonomy over labour matters, including over foreign workers.

“If the Employment Act had been extended to Sabah, the Sabah Labour Department would have been downgraded to a mere department answering to the federal director-general of labour just like any other state in Peninsular Malaysia,” he said.

He pointed out that Sabah’s success in rejecting the proposed extension of the Federal Employment Act meant the Sabah Labour Department now answered directly to the ministry “without being submerged among other states”.

The semi-autonomous status for the department meant that the federal human resources ministry had to, legally and politically, consult the Sabah government and stakeholders on any matters concerning the Sabah Labour Ordinance and labour matters.

“Sabah’s voice and issues can be heard loud and clear without being lumped together with other national issues which are different from those affecting the state,” he said.