IMF’s official complaint against the Malaysian Government

Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, at the inaugural meeting of the DAP National Labour Bureau held at DAP Headquaters at PJ on Monday, 22nd August 1977 at 8p.m.

IMF’s official complaint against the Malaysian Government to ILO: DAP calls on Labour Minister Lee San Choo to stop splitting the workers movement into peanut unions and to respect the right and freedom of workers to organize and join unions

There are many reasons to explain why the Malaysian labour movement is not the national force it should be to spearhead economic, political and social changes to rectify the inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes in the country.

Two of these reasons are: Firstly, the overwhelming majority of the work force, some 85%, is not unionized. Secondly, the majority of the unions are peanut unions, making them ineffective and week.

The government, which has shown an anti-union bias right from Merdeka in1957, must bear the major responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs and for the state of the peanut unions in the country.

The Barisan Nasional Government has been accused internationally for having violated workers’ rights and freedoms. On June 3, this year, the International Metalworkers’ Federation based in Geneva, with almost 13 million members in 65 countries, lodged an official complaint against the Malaysian Government to the International Labour Office(ILO) for voting the “spirit and letter” of articles 2 and 3 of ILO Convention no.87 concerning freedom of association and the right of workers to establish and to join unions of their own choice.

The Minister of Labour, Lee San Choon, and the Barisan Nasional have indeed brought shame to the good name and honour of Malaysia.

The case that the International Metalworkers’ Federation has brought against the Malaysian Government for violation of workers’ rights is a very strong one.

The Minister of Labour, through the Register of Trade Unions, had forced metalworkers in Malaysia to form different unions, such as

1. Metal Industry Employees’ Union, 6,000 members;
2. National Union of Industrial, Mineral Smelting Workers, 800 member
3. Electrical Industry Workers’ Union, 4,000 members;
4. Machinery Manufacturing Employees’ Union, 500 members;
5. Transpot Equipment and Allied Industries Employees Union, 500members
6. Union of Malaysian Steel Workers, 1,000 members.

A seventh union, the United Motor Workers Employees’ Union, had to be formed because workers in United Metal Workers were not permitted by the Minister of Labour to join any of the other existing metal workers’ unions.

The Electrical Industry Workers’ Union has been restricted to organize workers in companies engaged in the manufacture of electrical home appliances. The EIWU’s attempt to organize the 30,000 workers in companies engaged in the manufacture of electronic components, semi-conductors, calculators, etc. having no union of their own, have been thwarted at every step by the Ministry of Labour.

It would be appear that Malaysia is the only country where electrical and electronics engineering are considered as two separate fields from the point of view of trade union organization and jurisdiction.

I understand that the Minister of Labour, Lee San Choon, is engaged in the process of further splitting up the Metal Industry Employees’ Union into more peanut unions, for every year, the Register of Trade Unions ruled that the MIEU should remove some of their members, and every year the employers used the register’s unfavourable ruling against the MIEU to victims and indiscriminately dismiss active union organizers.

The Neway Sdn Bhd in Malacca is good case to illustrate the obstructive and anti-union approach of the Minister of Labour. The MIEU was informed by the Registrar of trade Unions by letter dated March 16, 1977 that it had no right to organize the workers of this firm, an India-SEDC joint venture engaged in the manufacture of safety pins, hooks, hair clips and pins of many types. The Register, although agreeing that the products of the company are made of metal, ruled that since these products are used for dressmaking, the MIEU cannot organize these workers. The Register defined the firm as belongings to the haberdashery industry.

It is ridiculous to define any industry based on the ultimate use of its product. This means that the Ministry of Labour wants to from another peanut union for the “haberdashery industry” only, which due to a restriction in potential membership, would not have more than 300 members, ensuring that such a union would be weak and unable to survive or bargain effectively.

As a result, the International Metalworkers’ Federation has officially accused the Malaysian Government to the ILO for the following “a policy of fragmentation and artificial splitting up of the metal workers” unions of the country, enforcing forms of organization contrary to employers, weakening the workers’ bargaining power and violating Convention No.87.

The ILO has been invited to condemn these abuses and to remind the Government of Malaysia of their obligations towards the workers of Malaysia and the international community.

This is a very serious view of this complaint in an international forum. I call on Lee San Choon to immediately respect the workers’ rights and freedom of association and to establish and join unions of their choice, stop carrying on the process of “peanut-isation” of the labour movement. If the Minister of Labour is not prepared to do anything not only to restore to Malaysian workers’ their basic rights, but to redeem Malaysia’s reputation in the international community, I will move a motion to cut the Minister of Labour’s salary in the forthcoming budget session of Parliament to highlight the workers’ disgust at such anti-labour policies.