During the last Budget session three months ago, I had called for a Commission of Inquiry into the hunger-strike conduction by political detainees at Batu Gajah and Taiping detention camp.
At that time, we were not in position of the full facts. On February 16, 1974, thanks to the Minister of Home Affairs, I visited the Batu Gajah detention camp and met representative of the political detainees.
From the accounts which they told me about the circumstances causing the 47-day hunger by over 200 political detainees from 29th Dec. 1973 to Feb. 12, 1974, the events during the strike, I am more than convinced that there is a prima facie case warranting a commission of inquiry into allegations of physical violence and atrocities perpetrated on the detainees by warders and FRU men.
This is what I was told by the detainees whom I met in Batu Gajah detention camp, in the presence of two senior detainee at Taiping detention camp, Wong Sui Sang, from Yong Peng, Johore.
Since his detention, Wong Sui Sang has rheumatic pains in the various parts of the body. As a result of treatment, he corrected the side effect of drugs used for curing rheumatic pains: tinnitus, a symptom of continuously hearing ringing sound in the ears. As a result of poor medical care and bad living conditions in the detention camp, this condition deteriorated.
To the Batu Gajah detainees, Wong Sui Sang committed suicide as a final protest against the unsatisfactory living and medical conditions in the Kamunting Camp in Taiping, and he did hoping that his death would lead to improvement in the camp conditions. He left behind a testament.
The confrontation between the prison officials and the detainees arose when the detainees attempted, and failed, to see the superintendent of the camp to find put the real reason for the death of Wong Sui Sang and for permission to make arrangements to send condolence telegram and money to the deceased’s family.
The detainees were restless, and the Federal Reserve Unit were summoned who threw tear gas canisters and fell upon the detainees, assaulting and beating them up with great brutality.
In this first assault, many were severely injured, and some six or seven detainees were hospitalised with severe head and body injuries. Among those hospitalized were Lee Ban Chiang from Muar, Yap Bee Hui from Penang, received nine stitches, and Lim Choon Hwa.
The detainees were locked into their individual cells, and according to them, these physical assaults and brutalities were continued in the individual cells. In protest, the detainees started a hunger strike.
I have been told that during this period, the detainees were let out in twos or threes to take their baths, and when they were late or slow, they would be kicked, assaulted and beaten up, sometimes by the use of batons which are stabbed into their abdomen, ribs, kidneys or other sensitive parts.
One particular shocking episode concerned the transfer of political detainees at Taiping detention camp to Batu Gajah detention camp after the Taiping political detainees had launched a sympathy hunger-strike on 13th January 1974 to support the Batu Gajah detainees.
There was no incident during the trip from the Taiping camp to Batu Gajah detention camp. On arrival at Batu Gajah detention camp, the Taiping political detainees had to enter one by one, separated by some distance, into the camp, The detainees form Taiping told me that they had to file through two lines, on one side formed by FRU men and the other by wardens, who beat them with batons, kicked them and assaulted them with aluminum cups as they went through. The Taiping detainees suffered head injuries, back injuries and other bodily pains.
This was about 1 p.m. on 14th January 1074. At about 2 p.m., the Taiping detainees were let out in twos and threes from their individual cells to take their bath, and in the process, they were again beaten up. The FRU men also went into the cells to beat up the detainees. They would order the detainees to take off their clothes and kicked them.
That whole afternoon, the detainees confined at the adjoining blocks could hear sounds of beating and cries of pain.
I have been given some specific instances of police brutality and manhandling. Thus, in the case of Lim Joo, when he was going to bathe, he was beaten up by two wardens with batons stuck into his stomach. For the next five or six days, he passed out blood. I have been given the number of the two wardens concerned, which can furnish to the Minister of Home Affairs, as I have already informed him by letter that I have these particulars, if he is interested.
Others who were badly hurt as a result of the daily assaults were Chao Bee Poh of Kedah and Goh Sao Nien of Penang. But in the majority of cases, when the FRU men or warders were committing physical violence or manhandling on the detainees, they removed their number badges to avoid identification.
On February 5, the 38th day of the hunger strike, one Lim Yoke Wan of B block, who was the last to come out to bathe that day, was assaulted severely by two officers and two warders at about 3.37 p.m. the detainees have given me the names of the two officers concerned.
On February 6, Goh Siew Peng, who had been sent to hospital earlier after severe beatings, was again assaulted by two officers and warders and lost consciousness. This was his fourth assault, and he was reduced to a critical stage. One detainee who saw Goh in hospital saw Goh could not talk, and the hospital authorities, convinced that Goh would not live ig he was again assaulted, refused to let him return to the camp.
Because the FRU and wardens chose sensitive parts, like kidney, ribs, stomachs, for their targets of brutality and assaults, many detainees suffered severe internal wounds and internal haemorrhage. A number are still having difficulties in urination. Among those who were critically injured were Lee Ah Ming from Pontian, Tan Boon Siong of Kedah and Tay Chee of Segamat.
One of the detainees from Muar have been sent to Tanjong Rambutan mental hospital as a result of the treatment he received during the 47-day hunger strike.
Whatever explanations the minister of Home Affairs may give to exonerate his officers, there is clearly an irrebuttable case for a public inquiry headed by a High Court judge to go into these very serious and specific allegations of police atrocities in the detention camps.
National and international opinion, especially the Amnesty International, were shocked by the reign of terror and atrocities in the detention camps during that period.
Unless there is a public inquiry to ascertain the true facts of the 47-day hunger strike, and punish these officers and personal guilty of atrocities, this will remain a great scandal and shame for Malaysia, for the Ministry of Home Affairs, and even more so, to the record of the Hon’ble Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie.
I am not suggesting that the Minister is personally responsible for these atrocities, but as Minister, concerned, he should not be a party to them which he is if he refuses to order a public inquiry to bring to book those responsible for such heinous conduct.
I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs would have no reason to hush up the entire matter, as the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Sick Yew, tried to do with regard to the mass hospital deaths at the Malacca Hospital from July 21 – August 20 1973 as a result of gross negligence, maladministration and incompetence of the hospital administration.
The Minister has been known for his intellectual courage and openness, and readiness always to subject himself to public scrutiny as he has nothing to hide or fear. This is probably the reason why he had no objection to my visiting the detainees in Batu Gajah detention camp, for which I commend him. However, why he said subsequently changed his mind and refused to let me go to visit Taiping detention camp is something only the Minister knows. I hope he can live ip to his reputation and order a public inquiry into the Batu Gajah affair.
DAP calls for abolition of Internal Security Act
His Majesty, in his Gracious Address, spoke of improving national security.
But we know that in the last one year, there has been an intensification of detention under the International Security Act. More and more Malaysians are disappearing from their homes and places of works, without being given an open trial.
The DAP calls on the Government to put all the ISA detainees to an open trial or release them, for this concept if detention without trial runs counter to the Rukunegara concept of the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law, if it is to be meaningful, must uphold the fundamental rights of men against arbitrary arrests, and not the rights of governments to arbitrary arrest.
Furthermore, the Rule of Law does not mean that all laws of a country are embraces by it, for if this is the definition, then it ceases to have any meaning, for South Africa’s apartheid laws, the Nazi and Fascist laws of inhumanity and genocide, are all protected by the Rule of Law in the sense that they were enacted by the rulers of the country. Laws, properly enacted by the Parliament or other legislatures, may still offend the rule of law for they offend the very essence of human freedom, dignity and justice.
Master-Plan needed to regenerate the economy of Malacca
Is regards to the policy of giving grants to States, His Majesty said that the Central Government has agreed to allocate specific assistance to deficit State, after considering their respect ve financial resources as well as developmental needs. I am particularly heartened by the statement that this grant need not necessarily depend on the total population of each State.
Here, I wish to speak on behalf of the State and people of Malacca. Under the unbroken rule of the Alliance, Malacca has become one of the most economically backward states in Malaysia.
A look at the per capita Gross Domestic Product for each of the Malaysian State will show how much economic decline Malacca has suffered.
In 1963, the per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for Malacca ranked sixth place, beating five other states, namely Kedah, Perlis, Trengganu, Penang and Kelantan.
In 1970, the per capita GDP of Malacca has fallen to the 11th place, beating only two other states, namely Trengganu and Kelantan. She has been overtaken by Penang, Kedah and Perlis, and to two states of Sabah and Sarawak who have joined the Federation.
A comparison of the per capita GDP for States shows that Selangor’s per capita GDP in 1970 was about one-and-a-half times that of the average for Peninsular Malaysia while Malacca was only 69% of the national average.
The Second Malaysia Plan and the Midterm review talk about the rectification of imbalances. The economic imbalance between the States must be seriously rectifies by the joint efforts of the Federal and Malacca State governments, to ensure that all states share equally in the economic development of the nation.
In this connection, I call on the Central Government to allocate more funds for Malacca’s economic development. But from figures given by the government, there does not seem to be any special effort on the part of the Central Government to bring up Malacca to the economic level of other more advanced states.
Thus, as at June 1973, the Federal Government has given only $28 million in development loans, while to other states which are already very economically better off, like Selangor, Perak and Penang, they have been given three to four times the amount.
On the basis of giving priority to more depressed states, the Federal Government must give bigger grants and loans to states like Malacca, so that the economic imbalances between the states can be rectified.
Although several industries have been set up in Malacca, it will be worthwhile to make a study to find out whether such industries with their slave wage-rates will benefit Malacca economically. I will come to this larger question in a few minutes.
There is an urgent need for a Master Plan for the economic regeneration of Malacca to ensure that the people of Malacca enjoy a per capita income comparable to those of other states. The need for such an overall blueprint is illustrated by the curious fact that although every state in Peninsular Malaysia increased their padi production in 1973, for the state of Malacca, where padi production is an important economic activity, padi production fell by some 20%.
Can the Minister of Agriculture give us a satisfactory explanation?
DAP calls for modification in the MCE examination system to permit students who failed merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper only and not the whole examination
On this occasion last year, the burning issue was the mass failure in the MCE/SPM examination – the high rate of failure among Malay students in mathematics and science and the unprecedentedly high rate of failures among non-Malay students in the MCE merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia paper.
His Majesty, in his Gracious Speech, said that the Malaysian Certificate of Education results for last year are much better than the previous year, and that this indicates that more serious attention had been given to Bahasa Malaysia.
Last week, the Ministry of Education, after considerable delay, issued an analysis of last year’s MCE/SPM results, which concealed more than it revealed.
Thus, the parents and the public were not told the basis for the feeling of satisfaction which the Minister of Education expressed over the 1973 MCE Results.
We do not know how many MCE candidates failed the 1973 examination merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia subjects, although they get a string of distinctions in other subjects. But we know that in 1972 MCE examination, 14,331 school candidates dialed on this score.
From my own estimation, some 8,000 – 10,000 school candidates failed the 1973 MCE examination because of failure in 1973 although they do well in other subjects and would have got good grades.
This, surely, is not the basis for satisfaction and happiness. If all he facts are disclosed, the 1973 MCE results are probably even worse than the 1972 results.
Thus, we do not know too how many out of the 14,430 who failed the 1972 MCE examination merely because of Bahasa Malaysia and who repeated last year again failed for the same reason. When we take into account that the bulk of these 14,430 persons sat as private candidates, and not as school candidates, the total number of failures of school candidates and this group of private candidates may well exceed the 14,430 figure of 1972.
But this is not the end of the story. For more than one out of three MCE candidates are private candidates, and what is the total number of failure in this group because of Bahasa Malaysia.
I ask the Minister of Education to disclosed all these figures, namely, (i) how many schools candidates failed the MCE last year because of Bahasa Malaysia failure (ii) how many private candidates failed for similar reason; and (iii) out of the 14,430 who failed in 1972 and repeated the examination in 1973, how many of them again failed to get a MCE because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia.
In the absence of official figures, I do not think I will be far wrong if I estimate the total number of school and private candidates who failed the MCE because of Bahasa Malaysia as definitely exceeding the 1972 figure of 14,430 failures.
An education system insists on failing over 10,000 students every year because of failure in one subject is not only a wasteful and inefficient one, it is a most unjust one.
The Government should commission a full-scale inquiry into the causes of such mass failures, for any impartial inquiry will discover that the student to prepare our students competently for the compulsory Bahasa Malaysia paper.
Here, my party calls on the Government to modify the MCE system and to permit students who failed because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia to repeat the entire examination again, for in the case of those who have scored distinctions in a host of subjects, they could not possibly improve on them again.
Appeal for government assurance that all candidates who failed because of Bahasa Malaysia failure would be given school places to repeat the MCE
Until such time as the Government is able to take an enlightened, broad-minded and liberal approach to the problems of education, and modify the MCE system as I have suggested, I call on the Government to give an assurance that all those candidates who failed the MCE merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia would be given school places to repeat the examination.
The Ministry of Education’s order of priority for the retention of Form Fivers is highly obnoxious and inequitable, for it deny to capable and intelligent students the opportunity to repeat the examination.
Thus, according to the Ministry of Education circular, students who failed the entire MCE examination would be given priority to those who failed merely because of failure in Bahasa Malaysia. In other words, a student who scored seven distinctions but failed in Bahasa Malaysia, as the case with a student in St. Xavier’s Institution in Penang, will not be given a chance to repeat if places are limited, while a candidate who failed all subjects will be treated with priority attention.
This is indeed a cock-eyed arrangement, and I hope the Ministry of Education will without ado withdraw such offensive regulations.
Eternal preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools
While on the subject of education, this is the appropriate place to raise to the attention of this House and the Government a matter close to the hearts of the Malaysian Chinese and Indians.
For over a year, not a day passes without some organisation or person expressing concern and anxiety about the future of Chinese primary schools. This is because to those who are sensitive to developments in this country, the time seems very near when the Minister of Education would use his power to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools.
Although the Minister of Education, Tuan Mohamed Yaacob, has given an assurance that the Chinese primary schools would not be converted by 1975, this is most unsatisfactory.
The people at large do not want Chinese and Tamil primary schools only to be allowed to exist until 1975, which mean merely for the next 21 months or for another 720 days, and see the Chinese primary schools become a historic memory.
The people of Malaysia have a right to demand Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be allowed to exist not merely for another 720 days, but to grow and expand for as long as Malaysians want their children to be educated through the medium of their mother-tongue.
Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation, and Chinese primary schools must be regarded as an integral part of the Malaysian education system, and not something to be eliminated or abolished.
The preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools id not a sectional or communal issue, but a national issue.
The government does not tire of telling the people that the efforts of the New Economic Policy and the Second Malaysia Plan to promote the bumiputra participation in business and commerce, whether in terms of top managerial and executive positions or capital participation, is not a racial programme, but done in the national interest.
In the same way, the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is not a racial or sectional matter, but a national objective of a multi-racial nation.
Furthermore, the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools will be fully in consonance with the spirit and letter of the Constitutional guarantee embodied in Clause 152 of the Malaysian Constitution which provided that through Malay shall be the national language, (a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise for official purpose) or from teaching or learning, any other language, and (b) nothing in this clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.
Thus, the aspirations of Malaysians who wish to see the continued existence, eternally, of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, are not only Malaysian and national aspirations, but fully Constitutional as well.
I want the Minister of Education to tell this House and the nation at large whether the National Front Government can give a pledge to the people that the Chinese and Tamil primary schools would not be converted and abolished against the wishes of the parents, and that the public and parental wishes would be consulted in a specific manner before Chinese and Tamil primary schools are converted, as for instance, by manner of a referendum among the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians parents.
Recognition of Nantah and Taiwan, and Indian university degrees and qualifications
It is a matter of especial regret that after decades, the National Front government continues to adopt a discriminatory policy with regard to the over 10,000 Malaysians who hold degrees and qualifications from Nantah, Taiwan and Indian universities and colleges.
Instead of making full utilization of the skills and expertise of this reservoir of Malaysians, the Government preferred to let them rot and go to waste.
I call on the government to break from its past policy, and accord full recognition of the university degrees and qualifications of Nantah, Taiwan and Indian universities which are of international repute, so that Malaysian qualified manpower are fully harnessed to national development and construction.
In this connection, I want to make a special plea to the private sector to stop exploiting Nantah, Formosan and Indian graduates by paying them low salaries.
I know for instance that in banks like the United Malayan Banking Corporation (UMBC), the Malayan Banking and the Southern Bank, the Nantah and Formosan graduates employed by them are paid no better than Senior Cambridge, or MCE, or Chinese Senior Middle Three qualifications.
This is most unfair, and I call on the managements of these banks, and other private sector employers, to re-adjust the salaries of their Nantah and Taiwan graduate-employees to accord them the recognition and status due to them.
Government should subsidise Chinese Independent Secondary Schools
Before I leave the subject of education, I want to urge the Government to provide financial grants and assistance to the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, as these schools are helping the government in the educational field to provide education to Malaysian youths.
Up to now, the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools have to depend on their own efforts to raise funds. Thus, in Perak and other States, there are commendable efforts under the dedicated leadership of selfless men to raise funds for the expansion of Chinese Independence Secondary Schools.
The people, form all levels, especially among the laboring masses, have responded grandly to this campaign, and we see hawkers, taxi drivers, barbers, vegetable sellers, fishmongers, and men and women in all sorts of occupation donating their day’s labour or sale for the educational cause.
It is highly regrettable that the government, far from encouraging and commending these spontaneous sacrifices and efforts by the masses to help in the educational task of the country, should in fact be impeding and obstructing them.
Thus, in Selangor, a cultural show was organised by various organisations to raise funds for the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, to be known as Malay Kebudayaan Chun Lei.
These efforts suffered several setbacks. Three activity organisers of this show were detained a month ago, presumably under the Internal Security Act, without reasons or cause being given by the authorities concerned.
The Minister of Home Affairs should tell this House why these three active organisers were arrested and detained, and whether their detention was because of their role in organising the Malam Kebudayaan Chun Lei.
Subsequently, the organisers were informed that Stadium Negara, which they have booked for the performances, were not available. This clearly, was the result of pressures from higher-up.
I am aware that in Perak, many cultural shows to raise funds for Chinese Independent Secondary Schools were prohibited by the policy, or experiences harassments.
The Minister of Home Affairs owes to the people an explanation why these activities should face police harassment and obstruction. We want to know whether the government can give the people a categorical assurance that the police or government would not frustrate the people’s spontaneous efforts to raise funds for the furtherance of the Chinese Independent Secondary Schools.
Call for government subsidies for essential foodstuffs to bring them within economic reach of the poor
The failure of the government to take early measures to curb inflation and its failure to prevent it from becoming the nation’s No.1 economic problem is symptomatic of the National Front’s indifference to the sufferings of the poor.
The latest consumer price index released by the Statistics Department shows that the increase in the average cost of living of 3.2 per cent in February is the highest in 13 months. Between February 1973 and 1974, the cost of living race by 22 per cent for the average family. For the poorest, who comprise the majority of Malaysians, who have to spend most or all their money on food, the cost of living may have risen by 40 per cent.
All the government’s efforts have failed to stem price leaps. In fact, prices are rising at a faster gallop.
The fight against inflation, to restore the purchasing power and living standards of the lowest income groups, should be the paramount concern of all Malaysians as inflation makes inequalities worse, both of income and wealth, and is especially harmful to the poorer sections of the community.
Inflation is one of the major causes of mounting industrial unrest in various parts of the country. Unless inflation is brought under effective check, the Second Malaysia Plan objective to eradicate poverty by raising income levels of all Malaysians, irrespective of race, will remain a paper objective.
Without the disequalising effects of inflation, there is already grave disparity in the distribution of wealth and income in Malaysia. This disparity, instead of narrowing, is widening with every year of national development.
Thus during Independence in 1957, the top one-tenth of the households accounted for 34% of the national income, this share increasing progressively to 40% in 1970. On the other hand, the lowest 40% of the households, who accounted for a meager 16% of the incomes in 1957, have seen their share shrunk to a miserable 12% in 1970.
The National Front government is not interested in working out a strategy to reduce the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of the top ten per cent Malaysians, and increase the stake of the poorest 40 per cent Malaysians in the national cake. Their leaders and followers are only interested in finding the quickest means and shortest cut to join the Club of the top 10% Malaysians.
The prolonged inflation in Malaysia has aggravated the disparity in the distribution of wealth and income between the 10% top-rich Malaysians and the 90% have-nots, for price increases have the effect of redistributing the income from the workers and the low-income groups to the capitalists, the rich and wealthy.
Despite many highly-publicised anti-inflation and anti-hoarding campaigns, the Government has failed to take firm action against the manufacturers and importers who are one of the main causes of the price crisis.
Thus, last August, the former Finance Minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin said one of the major causes of inflation is the profiteering by importers who insist on a profit margin of ‘the order of 100 per cent or even more’.
But no action has been taken to bust the cartels, the monopolies and price manipulations by the importers and manufacturers.
The government refused to acknowledge that one of the chief causes of inflation in Malaysia is that manufacturers and importers want to capitalize on this period of inflation, not only to maintain their previous profit margins, in utter disregard of the hardships caused to the poor and the consumers.
I want to make the following seven proposals to the government to alleviate the hardship and suffering of the low-income groups and the poor as a result of unchecked inflation:
1. Government subsidies for essential foodstuffs like rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil and milk to bring them within the economic reach of the poor;
2. A six-month price freeze on all foodstuffs to ensure that the poor can get cheap food;
3. embargo on export of local foodstuffs and local products if such exports have led to the galloping increase of their prices in the domestic market;
4. A national campaign to encourage Malaysians to grow more food, which must be preceded by a liberal land-alienation policy to give land to the landless in the kampongs, new villages, estates.
5. The establishment of a Fair Prices Tribunal to tame and civilize manufactures and wholesalers to forego their greed to maximize profits regardless of the public interest;
6. Abolition of the Sales Tax and other taxation measures which have added fuel to the fires of inflation;
7. Wage increases to workers in both private and public sector to restore the purchasing power of the working class and the low-income group.
Minimum living wage for workers
One of the most disappointing sections in His Gracious Speech is that concerning labour.
His Majesty’s Minister talk about the government’s efforts ‘to foster industrial peace’, making the conspicuous omission about the need for industrial peace with justice.
Strike and industrial dispute are mushrooming throughout the country. Only a few days ago, I had occasion to send a telegram to the Minister of labour, Tan Sri Manickavasagam, asking him to intervene in two strikes in Malacca, one at the Malaysian Rubber Development Centre processing plant at Durian Tunggal in Malacca over COLA and better wages by some 200 workers, and the other one at Kyer Keroh in Malacca by some 400 workers of the Kubu Polibag over COLA and better wages. The latter strike is still going on.
Only a few weeks back, there was a strike at the Mercury Textile Corporation in Malacca, a German-State development Corporation venture, where the workers are paid slave rates. In fact, when I complained to the Minister of Labour year about the slave wages paid by the Mercury Textile Corporate, the Minister agreed with me that the rates were exploitative, but nothing was done to revise these wages.
These strikes and industrial disputes are not isolated instances, but part of a nation-wide industrial unrest. In fact, the employers have become so brave under the National Front Government that they have gone onto the offensive, and are looking-out workers who went on strike on legitimate grounds.
Thus, the Sharikat Ong Yoke Lin and the South East Asia Firebricks are two good examples of management lock-outs.
If we make a dispassionate study, we find that at the root of this mounting industrial unrest throughout the country is the common factor of the workers not being paid sufficiently to make ends meet.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of labour, Inche Rahli Omar, shocked to find that some workers are paid only $1.20 a day, suggested that they should be paid $2.00 a day. For the capitalists, the old and new rich in the National Front, they spent more than $2 a day on their dogs and cats. But for Malaysian workers, they are not fit to be treated better than the dogs and cats of the haves and the Malaysian rich.
The labour laws are so weighted against the workers that any attempt on their part to ask for better wages commensurate with human dignity and self-respect is countered by heavy-handed management blows, like dismissals, intimidation and victimization.
The workers and trade unionists have been unhappy about the labour laws for decades, as the labour laws are not only plagues with inconsistencies and loopholes, they generally favour the employers who have more money and power to make full use of the unsatisfactory state of the labour laws.
A lot of interest has recently centre around what has been called the Willan Judgement, the judgement by Chief Justice Willan in 1947. The crux of the matter is that if the Willan Judgement is still the law of the land, as contended by the Malayan Council of Employers’ Organisations, then a worker who absented himself from work on the ground of participation in a legal strike will be absenting himself without reasonable cause and therefore breaking his contract of employment, and dismissable by the employer.
The unions, however, including the former President of the Industrial Court, Tan Sri McaIntyre, and the Selangor Director of Industrial Relations in the Labour Ministry, Mr. B. Kumaran, are of the viewthat the Willan Judgement is not more valid law, as it would otherwise make nonsense of the Industrial Relation Act which recognises the right of workmen to go on strike subject to observance of certain conditions and limitations.
This little point of law promises to be an interesting subject for the managements and the workers represent tives to pit their wits and minds, if not for the fact, that workers are being sacked by employers on the ground that the Willan Judgement is still law – that if workers go on legal strikes, they can be dismissed.
This is indeed a retrograde concept which belong to the age when workers are regarded as chattels and wage-slaves, without basic and fundamental rights of their own.
A government, sensitive and responsive to the problem of the workers, cannot remain on the sidelines, and let litigation drag out on this subjects, while more and more worker are sacked because they went on strike as provided under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act.
All unnecessary litigation, time, expenses and suffering of the workers can be brought to an immediate end if the Minister would bring an amendment to Section 15 of the Employment Ordinance to put beyond all controversy that a worker going on a lawful strike has reason ble cause to absent himself and that the term reasonable excuse should cover absence due to lawful strike.
This is a very small amendment, and I am sure it is not beyond the capabilities of the Minister of Labour to burn some midnight oil to get this amendment introduces and taken through all stages so that workers going on lawful strike under the IRA would not be dismissed and locked out. We in the DAP will give full support to such an amendment to be taken through all stages in this present meeting of Parliament.
There are many areas of unhappiness in the labour laws which the Minister of Labour should give urgent attention. The assurance in the Gracious Address that constant review would be made about the labour laws is not promising if we go by past results.
Thus, the powers of the Minister of Labour under Section 16A of the Industrial Relations Act to adjudicate in dismissal cases is a subject of widespread unhappiness.
In exercising this Minister discretion overdismissal cases, the Minister is actually exercising a judicial power, which should be in accordance with well-laid principles of equity and industrial relations.
Workers, trade unions, industrial lawyers, even employers, should know under what set of circumstance and in accordance with what principles a worker can or cannot be dismissed, and this body of rules and principles should be developed so that all can be guided by it.
A present, under the law, whether a worker can be dismissed or whether he should reinstated or compensated with back pay, and for how much, depends on the whims and fancies of the Minister, who in his discretion, shall decide.
Such decision can be the result of a impartial sifting of facts, and scrupulous observance of well-known industrial relations principles. by the Minister. Again, such decisions can be the results of the whims and fancies of the Minister, on his momentary mood, or no who can get to the ear of the Minister.
Without casting any reflection of the Minister, I dare state that this is not the way to build up a body of industrial relations principles, not is this the way a judicial power should be exercised.
I hope that the Minister of Labour will see the merit of my arguments, and amend the industrial Relation Act to remove such jurisdiction over dismissal adjudications from the discretion of the Minister, and hand them completely to the Labour Court, or to the Industrial Court.
Reform of Industrial Tribunal and establishment of Appellate Tribunal
It is urgent that the Industrial Tribunals should be reformed, to regain the confidence of the workers in the Industrial Tribunal System.
An Industrial Tribunal should act more like a Court of Equity, to administer industrial justice to the workers, than as a Common Law Court hidebound by legalistic procedures and arguments, in which case, the interests of the workers would suffer.
I suggest that the industrial Tribunal should be made part of the Judiciary, and not as of now, part of the Ministry of Labour, and subject to the influence and pressures of the Minister of Labour.
Furthermore, there is a crying need for the establishment of an Appellate Tribunal above the Industrial Tribunal. At present, there is no appeal from the Industrial Tribunal if there is a miscarriage of justice on facts of the case, as the Industrial Tribunal Awards are challengeable in the High Court only on points of law.
The present procedure of appeal to the High Court is also highly cumbersome and unsatisfactory. For the High Court can only declare an Industrial Court award null and void, or quash it, resulting in another hearing. Instead of expeditiously disposing of industrial disputes, which should be one of the objectives of an Industrial tribunal, greater delay is caused.
The need for such an Industrial Appellate Tribunal is highlighted by the fact that although from 1967 to 1973, not a single award of the Industrial Tribunal had been challenged, since 1973, at least six awards are being challenged to the High Court.
An Industrial Tribunal Appellate would be able to handle these challenges more expeditiously, and provide for a review of industrial Tribunal Awards where is a miscarriage of justice on fact of the case. I will like to know that what has happened to the regional industrial tribunals which the Minister had promised to set in various parts of the country.
Call for law to regulate the contract system and remove its grosser abuses
One feature of the greater exploitation of the working class in Malaysia today is the greater usage of the contract labour system, as this not only permitted the employers to get cheap labour, but enabled him to avoid his other responsibilities to a regular worker, as security of employment, medical benefits, employers evident fund contributions, leave and other benefits.
Thus, a contract tapper is paid as low as $40 a month, when the MAPA rates for a tapper is $3.50 per day basic wage. I understand that there are easily 100,000 – 150,000 contract tappers, who are exploited as wage-slaves.
Contract labour in other economic sectors are also exploited to the same degree.
While it may not be possible to abolish contract labour system completely, as some economic activities required only seasonal workers, the whole contract labour system in Malaysia should be reviewed, controlled and regulated.
Where work is of a permanent nature, a contract system is clearly designed to deny the workman security of service and other labour benefits required by law. In such case, contract system should be abolished.
Contract labour should only be permitted in cases where work was of intermittent or temporary nature or was so little that it would not be possible to employ full-time workmen for the purpose.
Minimum living wage for workers
A legislation providing minimum living wage for workers would defuse and end many smoldering industrial dispute in the country.
This minimum living wage must be computed on the basis of what is necessary to give to every worker a decent livelihood for him and his family.
It is for this reason that it is highly regrettable that His Majesty’s advisers have not included in the Gracious Address proposals for minimum living wage proposals to end exploitation of workers by foreign and local labour, and I will be moving an amendment to this effect at the end of my speech.
Hospital negligence: Kuala Lumpur Hospital
Before I conclude, there is just one brief point I wish to touch on. His Majesty in his Gracious Speech said that the government will continue to increase social facilities such as housing, education and health.
I am glad that after mu expose of the scandal of the mass hospital deaths in the Malacca Hospital in July/ August last year as a result of autoclave poisoning cause by the negligence and maladministration of the Malacca Hospital, the Medical Superintendent has been transferred away, and there is a marked improvement in the staff attitude to the public and the patients.
However, I will like to know whether disciplinary action has been take against the officers responsible for such mass deaths, and what action the government proposes to take to pay compensation to the families of deceased. Parliament should be given a full repost by the Minister concerned.
I note that the Medical Superintendent of Malacca Hospital at the time, Dr. Wong Mae Yee, have in fact been given a promotion and is now head of the Taiping Hospital.
The Minister of Health had said that he would consider releasing to Parliament the finding of his departmental committee into the Malacca Hospital deaths, and I ask him to release it in the public interest.
I also call on the Attorey-General’s Department and the Police to institute criminal proceedings against those officers responsible for the unnecessary deaths of so many people in the Malacca Hospital in July/ August last year, for their negligence amounted to criminal negligence.
It is tragic that in Malaysian hospitals, unnecessary deaths are still taking place. On 8th February 1974, at 6.30 p.m., a mother, Rasimah binte Abdullah from Kuala Lumpur took her 53-day son, Wan Faizal Akmal, to the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital with an urgent letter by a private practitioner that he should be urgently admitted as he is suffering from a swollen liver.
When the mother brought the son to the Kuala Lumpur General hospital, the doctor who attended to the boy said there was nothing wrong with the boy and sent him home with some medicine.
The boy died the next morning.
How can the Minister of Health expect the public to have confidence in the hospital system if such indifference amounting to negligence happen regularly?
I have raised several cases with the Minister of Health, but I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer. Apart from making speeches, the Minister of Health should exercise his powers to look after the health of the people of Malaysia with greater sense of dedication and competence.
Finally, the amendment I wish to move, after the motion of Peter Loh, is to add the following words:
“But humbly regrets that His Gracious Speech have omitted proposals for minimum living wage for workers to end the exploitation of Malaysian workers by foreign and local capital.”
I know that it is not usual for the motion thanking the Royal Address to be amended although it has been done before in the Malaysian Parliament, and is a very common thing in other Commonwealth Parliaments. In fact, I found that the Indian Parliament accepted and voted on 470 amendments to the motion of thanks to the Presidential address last year.
(Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat in the Debate on the Royal Address on Tuesday, 16th April, 1974)