MTUC and workers’ rights are under threat if leaders go rogue

The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) is deeply concerned over the actions of top Malaysia Trades Union Congress (MTUC) leaders in arbitrarily calling for the exclusion of its Sarawak division from the technical committee in the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) meeting, and subsequently disobeying the memorandum of resolutions passed at the triennial delegates conference (TDC) and taking a stand that is in opposition to the resolutions.

The LLRC, along with the Sabah & Sarawak LLRC, whose coalition members from trade unions are all MTUC affiliates, are angered with its secretary-general J Solomon’s attempt to exclude an MTUC division as a relevant stakeholder in the NLAC deliberations convened by the human resources ministry (MoHR) concerning major labour reforms in the country.

The NLAC, which is a tripartite body consisting of MoHR, MTUC and the Malaysia Employers Federation (MEF), is tasked with discussing labour policies at the national level. It met on Nov 11, 2019.

In a statement dated Nov 13, 2019, issued by Sarawak MTUC division secretary Andrew Lo, it was said the memorandum, which conveyed the resolutions of the TDC on the ratification of ILO Conventions, was supposed to be tabled at the meeting but was instead rejected by MTUC president Abdul Halim Mansor, Solomon and MEF at the same meeting.

Solomon’s and Halim’s stand is in direct conflict with the memorandum and this is not their first attempt at jeopardising workers’ right to organise and turn this historical chance for change to a monumental “sell-out” to workers.

The deficit in democracy in MTUC is not new. The current MTUC leadership has failed to hold any general council meeting over the past two years.

Both LLRC coalitions have received many complaints from our coalition members affiliated to MTUC that they could not take part in the general council meeting and give meaningful contribution to the labour law reform process.

We wish to stress that inclusive and democratic labour leadership is vital for labour law reform process.

Without the approval of the general council meeting and neglecting the resolutions of TDC, the MTUC representation in the labour reform process will only reflect the viewpoints of individual leaders rather than the official position of MTUC.

These shocking revelations will severely derail the labour law reform process envisaged by the labour movement since independence. MTUC leadership’s rejection of the memorandum concerning ratification of ILO conventions adopted at its TDC is a serious breach of trust conferred by MTUC affiliates, including those in the LLRC, who campaigned for ILO C87 freedom of association convention relentlessly.

We criticise the argument of some labour leaders that ILO C87 encourages multi-unionism. Such viewpoints are parochial and failed to see the vast benefit of ratification of the convention.

At the Labour Law Reform Symposium on Freedom of Association, organised by LLRC on Sept 8, 2019, 65 trade unions and NGOs had endorsed a resolution on ratification of ILO C98 with the following statement:

  1. Refutes the common misconception that Convention No 87 promotes multiplicity of trade unions in workplaces and contributes to disunity among Malaysian workers as such situations are resolved through the secret ballot process as practised currently. Besides, the essence of the Convention is attaining freedom from undesirable interference from government and employers so workers can freely organise themselves under one united umbrella to defend their rights and interests, more effectively and democratically.
  2. Emphasises that under Convention No 87, workers shall have the right to establish or join their organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation; they shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules; elect their representatives in full freedom and the authorities shall be refrained from any interference.
  3. Rejects any mongering of fears from any quarter, whether employers or not, yielded out of self-interest for selfish ends which ride on weak unionism status quo, as winning workers’ basic rights makes strong organised labour movement a reality that benefits all Malaysian workers.

We call upon MTUC leaders to respect Sarawak MTUC’s right to participate in the NLAC. Sarawak is an equal partner in forming Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963. The interests of workers in Sarawak, as well as Sabah, must be reflected in the national tripartite body.

Excluding Sarawak MTUC from NLAC is clearly an abuse of power and tantamount to marginalising Sarawakian workers. It is against the spirit of Malaysia and unity of workers.

N Gopal Kishnam and Irene Xavier are the co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition.

Margaret Chin and Low Kiat Min are the co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition Sabah & Sarawak.

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