The organization of the unorganised

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, when speaking to a meeting of the DAP Labour Bureau on Monday, 3rd April 1972 at 7 p.m.

The first item on the agenda of organized workers: the organization of the unorganised

Last week, following my speech in Klang DAP Branch on the plight of the unorganised workers in Malaysia and the growing labour unrest in Malaysia, I receive several letters from various parts of the country written by employees of finance and borrowing companies about their exploitation and utter helplessness to end this exploitation.

There are 30 licensed borrowing companies carrying out business in Malaysia, and together with their network of 168 offices, they have in their total employment about 3,000 people. The total combined assets of these 30 borrowing and finance companies exceed $650 million, and as a source of funds, they collectively form one-seventh of the strength of commercial banks.

Yet their employees are poorly paid, many of whom do not get any increments despite many years of service. When employees of some of these borrowing and finance companies, which reap huge profits every year, ask for salary raises, these employees are warned or dismissed.

So far, these employees of borrowing and finance companies have suffered in silence, without any avenue to end the exploitation they receive, and to get more just wage.

Many of them realise that the only way to fight salary rates is through the organization of all finance and borrowing company employees into a union, and yet, no one dared to come forward to take the lead for fear of victimization, intimidation and dismissal.

This also explains why although I received several letters from employees of finance and borrowing companies in different parts of the country, the writers asked for forgiveness in not daring to give their addresses and identity – for fear of management reprisal.

This is the degree of the freedom of workers to organize themselves we have in Malaysia!

I would like to say here that I, and the DAP Labour Bureau, would be prepared to give all assistance to the organization of the unorganised workers. However, somebody from among their ranks must be prepared to come forward to take the lead. I would therefore invite all those employees who are prepared to come forward to get themselves organized to write to me, or to the DAP Labour Bureau, 77 Road 20/9, Paramount Garden, Petaling Jaya, so that we can jointly discuss ways to fight for a more just deal for the 3,000 odd employees in finance and borrowing companies.

This incident highlights the utter helplessness of workers to organize themselves and protect their own interests. The labour laws enable the employers and capitalists to punish employees who want to exercise their basic right, as enshrined in the International Labour Office Convention No.87 on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and I.L.O. Convention No.98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, to organize themselves into the union. The Malaysian laws give no effective protection to the workers who want to organize from being victimized, intimidation and dismissed by anti-labour employers.

The anti-labour laws, a completely unsympathetic Ministry of Labour, and freedom for employers to take reprisals against their employees with impunity, these are the reasons why 85% of the total work force remained unorganised.

This is also why the years, although the total work force has increased, the total number of workers in trade unions have fallen sharply. Thus when we compare 1965 to 1970 – the period of the First Malaysia Plan – we will find that the work force increased from 2,590,000 to 2,940,000 while the total trade union membership in benefit dwindled from 328,000 in 1965 to 274,600 in 1970. In other words, from 1965 – 1970, while the work force has increased by 13%, trade union membership has decreased by 16%.

The organization of the unorganised, and the enactment of labour laws which can give effective protection to workers from management reprisals for forming a union, should be the first item of the agenda of business of organized trade union movement in Malaysia.

The workers in Malaysia are entitled to a more just and equal share of the fruits of their labour. This is the democratic socialist society which the DAP is striving for.