Remove anti-labour clauses and safeguard and protect the right of workers

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the 1973 Ministry of Labour and Manpower Estimates on 25 January 1973

1. Call for royal commission of inquiry into the labour laws in the country to remove anti-labour clauses and safeguard and protect the right of workers to a just share of the fruits of their labour. .

Firstly, let me express my disappointment that although we were promised that at this session of Parliament, the Ministry of Labour and Manpower would be tabling amendments to labour legislations in the country, we have not received any Bill or indication. I hope the Minister can tell the workers in the country as to the government’s intentions on this.

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 Malaysian 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 hosts 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 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, victimizing 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, victimization or dismissal precisely because of this reason.

Although the government has never prosecuted a single employer for the general management practice of intimidating, victimizing 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 the strike by 230 workers of the Guthrie Processing Sdn. Bhd latex factory at Tebong in Malacca at the end of September last year.

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 1968.

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

There is a need, and I call for, a commission of inquiry to review all the labour laws in the country to remove the anti-labour provisions to safeguard and protect the right of workers to a just share of the fruits of their labour.

2. A New Deal for the 500,000 mining and estate workers in the country

Early this week, we read in the press that the government has decided to take steps to give a new deal to the 500,000 estate and mining workers in the country and that the Prime Minister has called for a meeting of estate agencies, mining employers and representatives of government agencies on Feb. 15 to find a solution.

My Party, inside and outside Parliament, have sought to highlight the plight and economic hardships faced by mining and estate workers in the past two years, and we have in fact called for a special government department or even Ministry to look into their economic, educational, social and cultural future with the mass retrenchments in both estates and tin mines.

I am glad that at last the government is waking up to this problem, but I earnestly hope that this is not going to be a repetition of the new villages fiasco, where there was a mountain of propaganda without a single bit of action.

I also hope that this belated awareness and concern for 500,000 estate and mining workers is not a pre-election gimmick to get votes for the coming general elections.

Estate and mining workers must be given either land or alternative employment if they are retrenched, and the government must make itself responsible for their economic educational, social cultural welfare.

The estate workers in many foreign estates are treated like dirt and slaves. The time has come for the government to tell the foreign estates personnel that they are not the lords of Malaysia, but must respect the laws and dignity of Malaysian workers.

For instance, there was recently a complaint to the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister’s Department that the manager of the Effingham Estate in Kepong, a non-citizen by the name of Mr. H. C. Pas, had been insulting estate labourers by ridiculing and making deoragatory remarks about the country.

Thus Mr. Pas would tell the labourers, if they asked for anything in the estate, that he did not care for the Agong, the Minister or whoever it might be. There are some 30 Malay workers in the estate, and Mr. Pas is in the habit of telling the Malay labourers who complained with things such as “You people can go and report to anybody even the Agong or Allah. I am the king of this Estate and I will do what I think is correct and if you talk anything against me, I will sack you.”

The workers and their union representatives are prepared to testify to the above statements.

I would like to know what action the Ministry of Labour and the Prime Minister’s Department have taken on this complaint. As an independent nation, we cannot allow foreigners to come to our country and insult our workers and nationals. This was the pattern in the colonial days, and should not be tolerated now. Such people should be sent packing from Malaysia with 24 hours’ notice.

The present situation where foreign estates are treated by the foreign estate managements as pieces of extra-territoriality where Malaysians cannot freely gain access must be put to a stop. I call on the government to introduce legislation if necessary to open up the foreign estates so that on these foreign estates, Malaysians can exercise their full civic right – as forming political branches, receiving visits, etc.