Labour law amendment akin to state-backed union busting, MTUC claims

Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran speaks to reporters during the launch of the Industrial Harmony Index (IHI) in Shah Alam August 6, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran speaks to reporters during the launch of the Industrial Harmony Index (IHI) in Shah Alam August 6, 2019. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 — The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) has called Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran’s labour law amendment akin to “state sponsored” union busting.

In a press statement today, its secretary-general J. Solomon said that the major amendments to the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) tabled last month were aimed at destroying the solidarity of the labour movement and denying workers effective union representation in negotiating Collective Agreements (CA) with employers.

“This particular set of amendments introduced by the minister will greatly harm the solidarity of trade unions and weaken the bargaining power of workers and unions.

“The minister took this measure despite telling the MTUC president and myself numerous times that having more than one union in the ‘same’ workplace in Malaysia will destroy unions and he will not do it.

“However, he made a complete U-turn and tabled the amendments which, if passed, will enable multiple unions being created at workplaces, leading to chaos, in-fighting among unions and deprive workers of effective bargaining power,” he said.

The new amendments which are awaiting approval from the Dewan Negara will also accord the director-general of industrial relations the power to hold secret ballots, awarding sole bargaining rights to the union deemed to have the majority support from the workers.

Solomon described the amendments as an attempt to fragmentise the labour movement further by creating multiple unions at workplaces and pitting them against one another.

He claimed that the minister and his officers had failed to hold “meaningful consultations” with MTUC on the amendments despite the labour centre being a member of the tripartite in the National Labour Advisory Council.

Currently, most unions were already subjected to a secret ballot to obtain recognition from employers.

“With the new amendments, these unions, despite obtaining prior recognition, will need to go through another secret ballot to compete with rival unions for sole bargaining rights. This will definitely create instability and split the union movement, not strengthen it.

“The amendments, if passed, will see unions busy fighting with one another, pinching members from one another, and bad mouthing one another,” Solomon said.

“We also expect employers and the ministry to actively promote their preferred unions at work places. The present minister already has a line of friendly NGOs and individuals to support anything he says. He is now seeking to have like-minded unions on the ground.”

Furthermore, he said that instead of bargaining and preparing for a strong CA, this amendment will create a situation where unions will battle one another to gain supremacy; thus, placing employers in an advantageous position.

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