From P Ramasamy
Of all people, I did not expect former Klang MP Charles Santiago to support the notion of multiplicity of unions in the country.
Recently, he said that the presence of multiple unions will lead to competition among unions for better wages and work conditions.
The newly introduced amendment to the Trade Unions Act of 1959 allows for multiplicity of trade unions in trades and industries.
I wonder how Santiago, who is well-versed in the history of labour and trade unions, could endorse the formation of multiple unions? How on earth can the contest and conflict between multiple unions contribute to a rise in wages and benefits for the working class?
The Indonesian limited experience might not apply to the Malaysian situation. When in-house unions were introduced in the 1980s and beyond, I am sure Santiago did not welcome the idea.
The whole idea of the formation of in-house unions or company unions was basically to divide the general or trade unions.
Both the Malaysian state and employers acted in unison when it came to divide and weaken the trade union movement.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, colonial legislation such as the Trade Union Ordinance was introduced to disallow omnibus unions and instead encourage the formation of trade unions.
Trade unions were further split after the formation of in-house or company unions.
Now there is another nefarious attempt to introduce multiple unions in the industry.
Can Santiago affirm that the introduction of trade unions to replace omnibus unions, and in-house unions to replace trade unions, strengthened the labour movement to demand better wages and benefits from employers?
Divide and weaken
Similarly, I wonder how the latest introduction of multiple unions can increase the competition among unions for better bargaining power.
I hope Santiago is not that naive to assume that competition and conflict between multiple unions can increase the bargaining power of workers. On the contrary, competition and conflict between unions will further divide and weaken the already fledgling labour movement.
It goes without saying that multiple unions will be something that might be embraced by the government and employers. The last thing that the government and employees need is a strong labour movement.
As far as employers are concerned, a good union is a “dead union”.
Labour laws in the country are meant not to keep peace between labour and capital, but to subdue the labour or trade union movement. It is indeed shocking that progressives like Santiago don’t see the real intentions behind the amendment to the Trade Unions Act 1959.
The intention is to further weaken and strangle the workers in the country.
The human resources minister V Sivakumar talked proudly about union memberships having reached the target of one million. He exposed his naivety by not realising that only slightly more than 6% of the labour force are organised in trade unions in the country.
Perhaps Santiago wants to explain how the multiplicity of unions can increase union membership leading to better bargaining power.
I agree with the Coalition Against Multiplicity of Unions (Camu), that the introduction of multiple unions in the industry is nothing but another sinister attempt to weaken unions in general.
The unions in the country are weak but why is there the need to flog them further?
Just because the amendment to the Trade Unions Act 1959 might become a law to create multiple unions, there is no necessity to support it.
P Ramasamy is the former deputy chief minister of Penang and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.