DAP calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the nation’s labour laws to remove anti-labour clauses and to safeguard and protect the right of workers

Extracts of speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, when speaking at the sixth anniversary dinner of the Johore Bahru DAP Branch at Johore Bahru Hotel, Johore Bahru on Thursday, 28th September 1972 at 9 p.m.

DAP calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the nation’s labour laws to remove anti-labour clauses and to safeguard and protect the right of workers to a just share of the fruits of their labour

The workers are the most neglected lot under the Second Malaysia Plan. There has been increasing labour unrest since the launching of the Second Malaysia Plan, and in the last few months, industrial disputes have come thick and fast.

The Alliance Government’s policy under the Second Malaysia Plan is to have a vast reservoir of docile and cheap labour, to attract foreign capitalists, unemployment rate is so high that the bargaining strength of the workers are undermined – for the employers can easily dismiss “difficult” workers and replace them with even cheaper labour. Furthermore, they have the blessing of the government.

The host of labour laws in the country are designed, not to protect and advance the legitimate interests of the workers, but to keep the workers strictly in their place and permit employers great liberty to do what they like.

Thus, although the Industrial Relations Act of 1967 upholds the right of the workers to join or form a union, in the last two decades, hardly a week passes without some brave workers being victimised, intimidated or dismissed for daring to unionise.

I do not believe that since the coming into force of the Industrial Relations Act 1967, the ministry of labour has prosecuted a single employer for intimidating, victimising or dismissing employees for wanting to join or form a union.

Yet among the unemployed today, there must be thousands who had been victims of management intimidation, victimisation or dismissal precisely because of this reason.

The Industrial Relations Act is a weapon the Ministry of Labour gives to the employer to use against the workers. Thus, although the government has never prosecuted a single employer for the general management practice of intimidating, victimising and dismissing workers for unionizing, the government has no hesitation in arresting and prosecuting workers who were forced to take industrial action by the sheer unreasonableness of the management.

A good example is given by the strike by 230 workers of the Guthrie Processing Sdn. Bhd’s latex factory at Tebong in Malacca two days ago.

The police arrested the five leaders of the striking workers and charged them with violating the Industrial Relations Act in wrongfully and without legal authority intimidating the workers from working. As far as I know, the grievances of the factory workers had been outstanding since 1963.

Thus, the labour Ministry and government would want us to believe that the employers and management are all reasonable and law-abiding men, but it is the workers who are the brutes and law-breakers.

Another area of acute labour exploitation is the growing management practice to employ contract labour, and the replacement of the normal monthly salaried workers by the contract labour system.

Some of these companies keep workers on the contract labour system up to eight or nine years. Many of these companies are large companies making good profits and dividends.

Workers of this system are exploited and denied all benefits and facilities enjoyed by monthly salaried employees.

Since the launching of the Second Malaysia Plan, the practices has also increased of managements of mines and other sectors dismissing long-standing employees and replace them with cheap contract workers.

The ministry of Labour gives tacit approval to such a system of contract labour which treat workers as more chattels with no rights of their own.

There is a need for a thorough going overhaul of the country’s labour laws, and the DAP calls on the government to establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the labour laws to remove the anti-labour clauses and safeguard and protect the right of workers to a just share of the fruits of their labour.