Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 1971

Speech by Sdr. Lim Kit Siang on the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 1971 in the Dewan Rakyat on July 26, 1971.

When the Industrial Relations Bill was presented to the Dewan Ra’ayat in 1967, my party said that the Bill, when enacted into law, would bring bind the workers hand and foot.

The industrial Relations Act, 1967, is detrimental to the interest of the workers as it flagrantly flouts the rights of Malaysian workers, Workers, especially unorganised workers who comprise 90 per cent of the total work-force, and small and weak unions are left completely at the tender mercy of anti-union employers and a far from sympathetic Ministers of Labour.

The party then proposed various amendments to introduce the element of social justice into Industrial Relations Act so that there will be a fairer and more just balance between the interests of labour on the one hand and capital on the other. If our proposals had then been adopted, the scale will not be so heavily weighted and unjustly weighed in the favour of employers.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, instead of acting on our proposal to create a just industrial relations system, we have today a Bill to amend the Industrial Relations Act, 1967, which when enacted into law, will further emasculate the rights of labours.

This Bill, is essentially a consolation of the Essential (Industrial Relations) Regulation, 1969 and the Essential (Industrial Relations) Regulations 1971, both of which made certain amendments to the 1967 Industrial Relations Act during the period of NOC-Emergency rule.

The 1969 Essential Regulations virtually made the existence of trade unions in this country redundant and irrelevant, as it chopped away so many of the traditional rights of workers and unions, for example, ban on strike while the question of union recognition is pending, denial of union representation in cases of dismissals; exclusion from negotiation matters relating to conditions of service, such as promotions, transfers, filling vacancies, termination of service due to redundancy or re-organisation, etc.

The first reaction of organised labour was one of shock and horror. As the then acting President of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Mr. K. George (now retired) put it when the emergency regulations were promulgated on October 9, 1969: “We are terribly dismayed”. Either because Mr. George’s capacity for dismay is limited, or because the psychological-warfare of the Ministry of Labour and the Government is very successful, most of the trade union leaders soon enough lulled themselves into believing the Government assurance that the Essential (Industrial Relations) Regulations, 1969 was a mere temporary measure which would be repealed when emergency ended.

In February this year, the much-heralded and long awaited amendments to the October 1969 Essential (Industrial Relations) Regulations 1971 were promulgated, preceded by great Press fanfare of its promise by both the Labour Ministry and MTUC officials. In actual fact, the 1971 Essential Regulations left the 1969 Essential Regulations to the Industrial Relations Act substantially intact, except for minor changed here and there.

The Bill before us, basically a consolidation of the Essential Regulations of 1969 and 1971, seeks to make permanent as part of the country’s law the Essential Regulations of 1969, which was declared to be temporary in nature in the very pre-amble to the Regulations. This Bill is highly objectionable and against the interest of workers and unions.

The Bill seeks to remove from the Industrial Court its original jurisdiction over dismissal cases, and Section 16A confers on the Minister of Labour the final power of determining the dismissal cases. His decision on dismissal disputes shall be final and conclusive and shall not be challenged in any common law or industrial Court. In other words, we have here the Minister arrogating to himself the power and role of super-Court. True, there is a provision for the Minister, if he is satisfied that it is expedient so to do or on the joint request of the trade union representing the dismissed workman and his employer, to refer any dismissal to the Industrial Court for settlement.

But Sir, I submit that this is a mere red herring. In the first place, it is virtually impossible to secure mutual consent from both parties to a dispute over dismissal cases to refer it to the Court for industrial arbitration. Further, why should the Minister be vested with the power of deciding what dismissal cases should go to the Industrial Court, why should the Minister of Labour usurp the original jurisdiction of the Industrial Court to hear and arbitrate in all dismissal cases.

Figures supplied by the Minister of Labour in reply to a question I sub-mitted at the last session of Parliament shows that from October, 1969 to February, 1971, a period of 16 months only six cases of dismissal have been referred to the Industrial Court, involving 36 workers. Mr. Speaker, Sir, are we to believe that during 16 months from October, 1969 to February, 1971, only 36 workers had grievances of summary and unjustified dismissal. Far be it. In fact, I have very good reason to believe that the dismissal rate had greatly shot up following the promulgation of the Essential Regulations of 1969, which stripped the Industrial Court of the power to hear dismissal cases.

I call on the Minister of Labour to reveal the number of dismissal cases his Ministry recorded from October, 1969 to February, 1971, and the number of dismissal cases which he, as Minister of Labour, adjudicated the result in each case, whether it ended in reinstatement, compensation or confirmed dismissal.

The practice if referring dismissal cases to the Minister of Labour as the final arbiter is a most unsatisfactory one and should be abolished. This is because in such cases Industrial Relations Officers of the Ministry of Labour who have investigated such cases of dismissal sit as judge over the hearing of the dispute. How could there be any sense if detachment and impartiality when the Industrial Relations Officer who has already investigated the case and formed an opinion for or against act again as a judge? This is against the rule of natural justice that a judge or an arbitrator should come to the case with an open mind without any pre-fixed ideas and views. I therefore call for the withdrawal of this provision, and reinstate the original provision whereby disputes involving dismissals can be heard by the Industrial Court, without need either of Ministerial reference or mutual consent of the interested parties.

The amendment Bill before us, Mr. Speaker, Sir, also seeks to remove disputes concerning union recognition from the Industrial Court. Section 8 confers on the Minister the power to decide who shall be a workman in “managerial” or “executive” positions or employed in confidential capacity or engaged in security work which excludes them from trade unions of workmen the majority of whose member-ship consists of workmen in non-managerial or non-executive positions. Mr. Speaker, Sir, who is in a “managerial” or “executive” position can sometimes give rise to complex problems. For instance, is a foreman, a chief clerk, a chief jaga, occupying a “managerial” or “executive” position, on the ground that they have other workers under their management? Such issues should properly be determined by the Industrial Court with an open hearing, accessible to the Press, and following precedents of previous decisions, If such matters are left to the discretion of a Minister or an Industrial relations Officer, who need not be openly checked, scrutinised and answerable for his decisions, then it is open to great abuse and misuse. In a democratic country, we must ever be watchful of the dangers of individual discretion granted to one person. Without safeguards, of an appeal provided by laws, the tendency will be to act in an arbitratary manner. This is foreign to our professions of developing a democratic way of life.

I would like to ask the Minister of Labour to tell this House the true reason for this startling move to concentrate all powers in his hands, at the expense of reducing the role and jurisdiction of the Industrial Court. The Industrial Court, as set up by the Industrial Relations Act, 1967, has been in function for four years, and is generally regarded by workers and in particular small unions as having done a fairly satisfactory job. Is the Minister of Labour curtailing the role of the Industrial Court because it has dispensed industrial justice and has done a fairly satisfactory job? As the Minister of Labour is not renowned for his sympathies for labour – in fact, he should be more appropriately termed the Minister for Employers – the concentration of these powers concerning dismissal and union recognition issues in his hands is a big step backwards into the industrial jungle. With issues of dismissal and union recognition removed from the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court, the Industrial Court has been replaced to an expensive but empty showpiece. I seriously suggest that if the Industrial court is to be stripped of the right to adjudicate on these issues – except with the consent of the Minister in dismissal cases – then the Government might as well abolish the Industrial Court.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, the 1967 Industrial Relations Act was already a very pronouncedly anti-labour piece of legislation, which we in the DAP had vigorously opposed. These amendments to the 1967 Industrial Relations Act will make the law regulating industrial relations in this country even more anti-labour and repressive. The Government’s objective seems to be to ensure that there is an unlimited pool of cheap and docile labour for exploitation by the capitalist. Those workers who dared to have ideas of organising themselves to press for their legitimate basic rights should be crushed, with the connivance and collusion of the Ministry of Labour.

We, on this side as Members of Parliament from DAP, are opposing the present Bill. I call on the Government to regard labour as the equal partners in the nation’s effort at development, and not merely to treat them as a source of cheap and docile labour, for exploitation by the Government and capitalist. Therefore, I call on the Government not only to withdraw the present Bill to amend the Industrial Relations Act of 1967, I would even call on the Government to repeal the 1967 Act altogether, and replace it with an Act which is more sympathetic with the suffering, misery and exploitation experienced by the workers in this country.

Before I conclude, I want to recommend to the Minister of Labour measures to provide for automatic recognition for unions which enjoy majority representation. This will be the most important instrument to organise the unorganised worker in the country. The workers who are most at the mercy of the employers, suffering great exploitation, are the unorganised workers. When they try to organise, they are intimidated, victimised and dismissed. The latest example is the case arising from the Foh Hup Bus Company. If there is a law compelling recognition for unions which have secured majority representation, it will be a great contribution to the upliftment of the lot of the workers. It is regrettable that the MTUC has to-date paid virtually no attention or interest to this grave problem of the organisation of the unorganised in this country.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, hearing the speech by the Honourable Member for Johor Tenggara, it would appear that in this country the people who are being exploited are the management, and the people who are doing all the exploiting are the workers. Of course, the workers in this country do not expect the Honourable Member for Johor Tenggara or Members from the side of the ruling party to speak up for their interest, but for him to say that there has not been a single case of victimisation arising from the emergency regulations. I think is a real travesty of the truth and only shows his gross ignorance of the plight of the suffering and exploitation of the workers. Of course, the fact that he has now joined the ranks of and sits on many boards of directors, clearly shows where his sympathy lies, but it is completely untrue that the workers in this country are having a nice time. Thank you.