Contract labour system

Adjournment speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the Dewan Ra’ayat on Thursday, 9th December 1971

Contract labour system

The problem of contract labour in Malaysia has become so acute that is has forced the Minister of Labour to recently to take cognizance of it, and to state his concern over a tendency among some employers to replace permanent workers with contract labour under the guise of reorganisation of work-force and cutting costs.

A specific case was the retrenchment of 147 permanent workers by the Killinghall Tin Mine management in Puchong, Selangor, on Oct. 1and their replacement by cheap contract labour even though workers who had worked for as long as 19 years were thrown out of work.

The Labour Minister said that he would take action against these rapacious and heart-less employers, but to date, the 147 permanent workers in Killinghall Tin Mine remained out of job. The Labour Minister has again shown that apart from uttering platitudes, he cannot really help these displaced workers.

All over the world, workers are fighting to get contract labour emplaced on the permanent basis so that they can enjoy minimum basic rights, in terms of job security, good working condition, provident fund contributions, medical care, etc. In Malaysia, however, we are going backwards with permanent workers dismissed and replaced by contract labour.

Contract labour as a concept is obsolete and was originated to exploit man by man. The wages of sin is death but the wages of contract labour is a living death, condemned to life-long exploitation and misery.

There is no social justification whatsoever for the general use of the contract labour system. But the major industries like the plantations and the mining industry employ extensive contract labour. There may be a case to use casual labour in certain types of temporary works, but not in industries of a permanent feature like plantations and mining. In Malaysia, the plantations alone employ no less than 35,000 contract labour.

Contract labourers are completely at the mercy of the employers, and they cannot be organised. Trade unions also do not accept them into their ranks. Thus the National Mining Workers’ Union of Malaya in its 1969-1971 Report described the contract labour system as a pernicious system which did not accommodate trade union organisation. The International Labour Organisation has also recommended the abolition of contract labour system.

Enlightened governments all over the world are introducing legislation to do away with this pernicious system of exploiting cheap labour. I call on the government to take measures to abolish or reduce the incidence of employment of contract labour. I also call on the government to appoint a Royal Commission to make a comprehensive study of the workings, abuses and perniciousness of the contract labour system, with recommendations as to how it can be abolished.

Before I conclude, I urge on the government to set an example in not exploiting contract labour. It should instruct all government and quasi-governmental organisations to cease employing contract labour, put all contract labourers on permanency, and thus take a concrete step towards eliminating this exploitation of man by man.