Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, when speaking to the Malacca DAP State Sub-Committee Meeting in Malacca on Tuesday, 3rd October 1972 at 5 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 own 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 blessings of the government.
The host of labour laws in the country are designed, not to protect and advance the legitimate interest 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 victimized, 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 and dismissal precisely because of this reason.
The Industrial Relations Act is a weapon the Ministry of Labour has given 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 unionising, the government has no hesitation in arresting and prosecuting workers who were forced to take industrial action by the sheer unreasonableness of management
A good example is given by the strike of 230 workers at the Guthrie Processing Sdn. Bhd.’s latex factory at Tebong in Malacca last week.
For four years, the workers had tried to get improved salaries and better working conditions, and when out of desperation, they went on a strike, five of their leaders were arrested by the police for violating the Industrial Relations Act in ‘wrongfully and without legal authority intimidating the workers from working’.
It would appear from the government’s bias in favour of managements, and its merciless treatment of the workers, that it is the managements who are reasonable and law-abiding people, but the workers are all brutes and law-breakers.
Another area of acute labour exploitation is the growing management practice of employing contract labour, and the replacement of monthly salaried workers by 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 and established companies making good profits and dividends.
Workers of this system are exploited and denied all benefits and facilities enjoyed by monthly and unionised workers
In fact, recently, there had been several cases where managements retrench long-standing employees some with ten or twenty years of service, in order to replace them with cheap contract labour. This practice had increased since the launching of the Second Malaysia Plan.
The Ministry of Labour gives tacit support and approval to such a system of contract labour, which treat workers as mere chattels with no rights of their own.
There is an urgent 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 provisions and to introduce amending legislation to effectively safeguard, protect and advance the right of workers to a just share of the fruits of their labour.