Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, at the inauguration of the Penang DAP Labour Bureau in Penang on Saturday, 10th Sept. 1977 at 8 p.m.
DAP to move a vote of no confidence against Dato Lee San Choon for depriving workers of their legal rights to retrenchment and retirement benefits
The employers in Malaysia are very powerful and can get the Minister of Labour and the Ministry of Labour official to serve their interests.
In July last year, the Minister of Labour, Dato Lee San Choon, introduces the Employment (Amendment) Bill which, among other things, abolished the limited rights of workers to retrenchment and retirement benefits.
Before last year’s Employment (Amendment) Bill, there were two provisions, known respectively as Section 60G and 60H of the Employment Ordinance.
Section 60G reads:
“No labourer who has been in continuous service with an employer for less than five years shall be entitled to any retirement benefit other than the sums payable under the Employment Employee Provident Fund Ordinance on the cessation of his service with the employer.”
The DAP was unhappy with both Sections 60G and 60H because firstly, they provide a qualifying period namely that workers with less than three years’ service shall not be entitled to retrenchment benefits while workers with less than five years; service shall not be entitled to retirement benefit; and secondly, the Employment Ordinance did not provide the quantum or basis for the computation of the redundancy and retirement benefits for those who qualify.
But the managements were unhappy with Sections 60G and 60H because the workers, through great sacrifice, established an important principle in court, in the High Court case of Malayan Pineapple Company Sendirian Bhd. Klang v. Food Industry Employees Union that Section 60G, and similarly Section 60H, confers a legal right to workers with three or five years of service to retrenchment or retirement benefits respectively.
The power of the employers can be seen by the Employment (Amendment) Bill last July, when both Sections 60G and 60H were repealed.
The DAP violently opposed the abolition of Section 60G and 60H, because these were retrograde steps, which deprive workers of their limited retrenchment and retirement benefits.
The Labour Minister, Dato Lee San Choon, tried to pull the wool over the workers’ eyes, by explaining to trade union leaders that the abolition of Section 60G and 60H are to enhance worker’s rights, so that workers with less than three years’ service can enjoy retrenchment benefits and workers with less than five years’ service enjoy retirement benefits.
Dato Lee sought to explain this by pointing out to a new provision in the amendments, namely sub-section (2) of Section 102 of the Ordinance which gives the Minister power to make regulations “prescribing entitlement to and payment of retrenchment and retirement benefits.”
I said in Parliament during the debate on the Employment (amendment) Bill that this new provision was “a red herring”.
And events have proved me right. Over a year have passed since the removal of the legal rights of workers to limited retrenchment and retirement benefits, and the Minister has not yet made any regulations to prescribe entitlement to and payment of retrenchment and retirement benefits.
As a result, workers who previous to the amendments were entitled to retrenchment and retirement benefits as a matter of legal right have been deprived of these benefits.
The DAP deplores this, and will move a vote of no confidence against the Minister of Labour, Dato Lee San Choon, at the next meeting of Parliament for such blatant disregard and disservice to the welfare of the workers.
There can be no basic protection for workers’ rights unless the workers exercise their political rights and put into Parliament Members of Parliament who understand and sympathise with workers sufferings.
It is significant that ever since Merdeka 20 years ago, not a single Minister of Labour or, for that matter, not a single Cabinet Minister, had come from working class background.
Every Minister of Labour, including the present one, has been a representative of capital, and who look at workers’ problems through the spectacles of a capitalist.
Malaysia Fancy Plywood and veneer Co. Bhd
The Malaysia Fancy Plywood and veneer Co. Bhd. affair in Kuala Lumpur, where for over two months, some 460 workers had been thrown out of jobs and denied a single cent, is a good example. The man who is high on the management side is none other than the former Labour Minister, Bahaman bin Shamsuddin, who uses his influence in the Ministry of Labour and the government to enable the company to evade its duties and responsibilities to the workers.
Role of DAP Labour Bureau
The formation of the Penang DAP Labour Bureau marks another steps of the DAP in our involvement and commitment to the cause of workers. Our task is basically to (i) identify the problems of workers (ii) champion the cause of the workers and (iii) help in whatever we can to solve problems and disputes faced by workers.
It is not our ambition to replace or substitute the place of trade unions. We are prepared to co-operate with any organisation solely from the stand-point of workers. However, in my involvement with workers’ problems, I have had occasion to come into contact or come to know about the doings and attitudes of certain trade union leaders.
I do not want to make any general remarks about trade union leaders in the Labour movement, for it will be unfair to do so because of the misdeed of a few trade union leaders. I hope that the occasion will never arise when I or my colleagues will have to rise up in Parliament, and in the interests of the workers, detail the misdeeds and irresponsible actions of any trade union leader whose conduct had gravely harmed the interests and welfare of the workers themselves.