Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill 1971

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

Mr. Speaker, Sir, this is another piece of anti-labour legislation. The most “eye-catching” amendment is the provision banding trade union leaders from holding office in political parties. No other Act, I submit, of the Alliance Government has done more to show its mistrust and suspicion, even bordering on hatred, of the workers. Year in and year out the Government, through this Parliament, enacts more and more restrictive, oppressive and anti labour laws. The only way workers can undo all these anti-labour legislation is to send their leaders to this Parliament to battle for the legitimate rights of the workers, to release the workers from the bondage which the Government has condemned them to.

There was a time when trade unions and their leaders held the view that trade unions have nothing to do with politics. I am happy that this attitude has changed, because that belief was self- defeating and fallacious. For politics concerns every aspect of our life; whether it be cost of living, security of jobs, human and decent wages or human conditions of work. In Malaysia, workers have begun to realize that in a democratic country the only way to break the chains of these repressive, restrictive and anti-labour laws, which the Government has imposed on them, is to send their leaders to Parliament the supreme law-making body, to champion their rights and oppose the avaricious greed of those capitalists who will want even to squeeze blood from stone.

This growing political consciousness in the ranks of the workers, I submit, an enlightened government should encourage for in a democratic framework we should encourage a greater political consciousness among the people, a greater awareness and interest in political developments, because the health of our democratic system, depends in proportion to the interest shown by the electorate. Instead of encouraging this political consciousness among the workers, the Government has set out now in this Bill to frustrate the aspirations of the workers for a fair deal. We have no a Bill to deny trade union officials the right to hold office in political parties. In other words, while Parliament will continue to pass laws concerning the future of the workers, and this Chamber with its present composition is likely to continue to pass anti-labour legislations, the workers are going to denied the right to have redress in this Parliament through political parties, then they are being denied avenues for the undoing of all these laws which we are passing.

The Government claims that it wants to prevent workers from being exploited by unscrupulous politicians, which is a most flimsy excuse. By this same logic then the Government should be passing laws or introducing Bills to ban officials of farmers’ association, youth clubs, fishermen’s associations, the M.M.A. probably, or prefessional organisations representing architect or other walk-of-life from holding positions, in political parties, barring them from a political role. Is the Government proposing to do this and, if not, why is the Government picking on the trade unions in order to deny them the right to have their leaders in this Parliament through Political parties?

Mr. Speaker, Sir, just now the Honourable Minister of Labour questioned the loyalty of the D.A.P. because my party had sent a telegram to the Secretary-General of the I.L.O. to protest over his election as the President of the I.L.O. The Honourable Minister of Labour equates loyalty to Malaysia to support for him in his election to the Presidency of the I.L.O. which is indeed a fantastic claim. On the part of the D.A.P. here our loyalty to Malaysia is second to none, but we do not regard that to be loyal to Malaysia must mean support to the Honourable Minister of Labour as President of the I.L.O. We have not supported his election as President of the I.L.O. because we do not believe that it was right to support a person with pronounced anti-labour bias to occupy a seat which symbolizes social and industrial justice, for once he occupies that seat and comes back here, he can go round and boast of his appointment to show what a great champion and fighter of the rights of the workers he is – of which he is not! This was why we were shocked when the M.T.U.C. had given its support for him. We were given to understand that the M.T.U.C. had supported him because it has extracted an undertaking from the Minister of Labour that in return for its support to his election to the Presidency of the I.L.O. the Government would withdraw all their emergency regulations. That was why we read in the Press of the pained shock and lament from the M.T.U.C. President, the Honourable Member for Bukit Bintang, that the Minister of Labour has made the M.T.U.C. “the laughing stock” of the world and he was right!

Now, coming more to the further provisions to this Bill, Section 11 provides for the removal of the provision for the issue of temporary certificates of registration. This might look as a sound amendment on the face of it, but this would disable those genuine unions any activity if there is inordinate delay on the part of the Registrar to issue the certificates if registration or refusal of registration. Delays in this respect are not unknown and uncommon and, in the light of the abolition of the temporary provision, the R.T.U. and his staff should see to it that the certificates under Section 13 or the refusal of registration of the union is dealt with expeditiously.

With regard to Section 12, it is to give the Registrar distortion in matters of registration – changing the word “shall” into “May”, when formerly it was mandatory, on the Registrar to register a trade union upon receiving an applications under Section 10, subject to certain provisions. The effects of this amendment is that the Registrar’s discretion to register a union or not is widened and enlarged. The exercise of the Registrar’s discretion in this matter so far is not one which the Registrar himself could be proud of. Discretion vested in him has been abused and had been exercised not accordingly to sound principle or precedents but more to the Registrar’s whims and fancies. If one writes a chapter on this exercise of the discretion by the Registrar, say in the past five years, the page will be strewn with bewildering and inconsistent decisions. It has been said that next to the Almighty, it is the Registrar who wielded the most discretionary powers. But this amendment puts the registrar on a par with the Almighty himself.

With regard to Section 17, to provide for any appeal against an order, refusal to registrar or opinion of the Registrar to the Minister whose decision therein “shall be final and conclusive”. Mr. Speaker, Sir an appeal to the Minister against the Registrar’s decision according to the Bill shall be final and shall not be called into question in any court. If the Registrar has exercised his discretion wrongly, certainly the Minister is not going to reverse the decision of his own Registrar. This appeal Clause will therefore serve no useful purpose. The Registrar’s opinion should be justifiable and on this I fully support the views expressed by the Honourable Member for Seberang Selatan. That is a usurpation of the powers of the court. For example, if the Registrar in his opinion decides to put “fish and fowl” together in one basket – that is, in his opinion two trades or occupations are similar – the only remedy is to go to the Minister and not to the court. Thus, the Registrars powers and discretion are enlarged with no safety of recourse to Courts, if the Registrars errs – which is not too infrequent.

Coming to Section 26, I will read Section 26 because it is quite important: “Any group of employees being members of a trade union, who take ant form of industrial action in contravention of this Ordinance or thereafter such members shall not be eligible from becoming members of trade union unless approved by the Registrar.”

Surely this is a very extreme and heavy a penalty which goes to the very root in denying the worker right to be a member just because he has taken, in the eyes of the Ministry of Labour, certain illegal industrial action. And I think this probably, person who may have committed a social wrong is going to be banished from the pale of human society. This, I submit, is a most obnoxious and reprehensive provision and I call for its removal.

I have already referred to the provisions of Section 28 and 29 with regard to banning trade union officials from holding political office. With regard to the executive of a union as provided in Section 28 and 29 Sir, I submit many unions have to take outsiders to run them either because the members have no time or the expertise to run the union affairs, in negotiations replying to letters from R.T.U and probably in the matter of keeping accounts. I would suggest that this matter be reconsidered.

There is a provision for the abolition of political funds and I wonder why it is necessary now to try to abolish a clause which has been on the statue book since 1959. The Minister probably should be happy that at the moment the trade union movement is effete and quite emasculated by his repressive laws and no great harm can de done by this clause, as no union, to my knowledge, has had a political fund. This is like using a sledge to kill a fly.

Finally, Sir, Section 54 which spells out the Registrar’s powers on the misuse of union funds. In this respect, I feel there must be provisions to see that there are powers to intervene in cases where there is abuse of funds, arising from differences between intra-union groups in a particular union. For instance, a union which has decided to put up a building at great expense and as a result of intra-union- differences, the construction process has stopped because the majority faction of the executive council or building process, in order to do in the other group. Such things must not be allowed to continue because the money belongs to the workers and there must be provision to protect the money of the workers against such abuse.

I think, Mr. Speaker, Sir, to wind up the most reprehensible and obnoxious provision among them is the one barring the right of trade union officials from holding political office and I call on the Honourable Minister of Labour to with-draw this amendment because, otherwise, then the Government must stand condemned in the eyes of the people as a Government which is opposed to the interests of the workers. Thank you.