HR Ministry asks if MTUC really cares about empowering workers or fears losing influence

Jerry Choong
The ministry labelled MTUC’s claim that amendments to streamline labour laws will weaken the bargaining power of existing trade unions as baseless. ― Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 — The Human Resources Ministry questioned today the Malaysian Trade Unions Congress (MTUC) for demanding labour law amendments, suggesting it had ulterior motives.

It said MTUC’s insistence that the government ratify the International Labour Organisation"s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention 1948 (C87) is “selective”.

“The provisions under the current law do not allow more than one trade union in a workplace, creating a monopoly and manipulation by certain trade union leaders,” said the ministry in a statement.

Due to this, workers have no say in choosing their preferred trade unions as there is no alternative for them to do so currently.

“Hence, many workers are discouraged to join any union at all. At one time density of union membership in the country was about 10 per cent and currently it is about 6 per cent, which is alarming.

“There is a possibility for it to go even lower if workers are not empowered to exercise their rights to establish and join unions freely,” it said.

The ministry noted that freedom of association includes multiplicity of trade unions, in line with the fundamental principles of C87 which accord workers the right to form and join a union of their own choosing without prior authorisation.

“It cannot be selective in asking the government to ratify C87 while they themselves are objecting to multiplicity of trade unions that underlies the very basic foundation of C87,” said the ministry.

C87 is one of two conventions by the ILO currently focused on by Malaysia, the other being the Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining 1949, which was ratified by the country in 1961.

The ministry is currently amending relevant labour laws to ensure their provisions are in line with C87, before it will consider ratification.

It said MTUC’s earlier proposal to the ministry to adopt C87 was a bid to limit the number of trade unions in an industry.

“This means only trade unions based on industry can be established and unions based on occupation, trade and establishment can no longer be in existence.

“This proposal is totally unacceptable as it is against the key fundamental principle of C87 which accords the right for workers to establish and join a trade union of their own choosing without previous authorisation.”

The ministry also labelled MTUC’s claim that amendments to streamline labour laws will weaken the bargaining power of existing trade unions as baseless.

“Under the Trades Union Act 1959, workers may form a general union without confining to any particular trade, occupation, or industry, with existing unions permitted to amend their constitutions to enable them to represent more workers without confining them to any restrictions.

“This will create stronger unions with better bargaining power as compared with current restrictive practices. Furthermore, Section 26 of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 is also amended to increase trade union bargaining power,” said the ministry.

It added that this particular amendment allows for bargaining to be conducted freely and for the right to strike and picket without government interference.

The ministry urged its critics to study its Industrial Relations Amendments Bill before commenting further.

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