Who gained in vote against treaty on sexual harassment?


This is an open letter to the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), the Malaysian Employers’ Federation (MEF) and the Malaysian delegation that attended the International Labour Organisation (ILO) meeting last week.

I have a question for you. When you voted on June 21 against the ground-breaking ILO treaty to protect workers from violence and harassment, did you vote for yourself and your harmful beliefs, or did you vote as you should have for all workers in Malaysia?

While 540 delegates recognised how vital this treaty is for the protection of workers, you, MTUC, the umbrella body for trade unions, whose mandate is to protect and uphold the rights and dignity of all workers, and you, MEF, voted against it because you “reject and do not recognise LGBT” (persons).

When I spoke to several workers in Malaysia about this, their response was the same: “They are workers, they are human beings, they deserve protection.”

Have you declared yourselves gods, standing ready to judge and condemn? As far as I have been taught, excluding a worker from protection of their basic rights and justice because of their race, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation is wrong.

It is extremely shocking for me that I, who have held trade unions in deep respect, now have to question their leadership.

It is your mandate to protect workers. You have failed to do so here.

For me, all workers, regardless of their status or orientation, must be given the highest respect, must have their dignity and rights respected, must be loved. If you are unable to do that, then you must step down as a leader.

To MEF, as employers, you have an obligation to respect the human rights of all workers in the businesses you represent. Is this the work culture that you promote – one of harassment, threats, abuse and violence? Your prejudicial personal beliefs have no place in employment.

Kudos to employers who employ LGBT persons without discrimination, and kudos to employers who work hard to create a work culture free of violence.

Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran, you led the delegation from Malaysia to Geneva. You speak about the rights of workers but by abstaining from the vote, you have taken away the right of workers to be free from violence.

By abstaining, you are complicit in enabling a culture of humiliation and suffering that workers endure. By abstaining, you have shown you are fearful. We hope you can tell us what that fear is so that we can deal with it, and work to move forward together.

It is a shame for Malaysia and all Malaysians that this is the stand all of you have taken. LGBT persons are beautiful human beings, full of intelligence, creativity, kindness and talents. They are just like anyone else.

Countries like India are showing us the way forward, like in the appointment of Joyita Mondal two years ago, the first transgender judge in India.

Meanwhile here, you travelled all the way to Geneva to make sure even the most basic of protections – to be free from violence and harassment – is denied to all workers because of your own prejudices about people’s sexuality and gender identity.

For far too long, workers, especially women, have had to bear the sufferings of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. I know this from personal experience, I’ve seen it first-hand.

How do we rectify this terrible decision by all of you who were given the responsibility of voting on behalf of workers in Malaysia? Moving forward, what commitment will we make not to tolerate any kind of violence, harassment or injustice for any worker, all workers, and how will we uphold that commitment?

I call upon the newly set-up Human Rights Department under Liew Vui Keong, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, to intervene. We must walk the talk of human rights; we must act.

And to all leaders who are meant to represent workers in Malaysia, if you cannot uphold the dignity and rights of all workers, then you need to step down and make way for those who can and will.

Aegile Fernandez is a social activist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.