By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and Member of Parliament for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in Penang on Saturday, 4th August 1979:
Lim Kit Siang writes to Prime Minister, Datuk Hussein Onn, to ensure that the government does not discriminate between employers and employees in the enforcement of laws.
I have written to the Prime Minister, Datuk Hussein Onn, asking him to ensure that the government does not discriminate between employers and employees in the enforcement of laws.
In my letter to Datuk Hussein Onn, I cited the case of a $65,000 Industrial Court Award for 162 pineapple factory workers which the employer had defied for five years, and which the government has done nothing to enforce.
This was the industrial court case of Food Industry Employees’ Union V. Malayan Pineapple Company Sd. Bhd. in Selangor, which terminated the services of 230 workers on 16th November 1973.
The workers’ claimed for retrenchment benefits, and on 18th June 1974, which is over five years ago, the Industrial Court handed down an award holding that only 162 workers who had served the Company for three years and over were entitled to retrenchment benefits. The Industrial Court awarded retrenchment benefit at the rate of seven days’ pay for each year of service for these 162 workers. The total cost of the award came to about $65,000, ranging from $64 for the lowest award to the highest individual figure of $1,801 for the workers.
However, over five years have elapsed since the Industrial Court award, and the 162 workers had not been paid a single cent. All efforts by the workers and their union to enforce the award had been fruitless. Approaches have also been made both to the Ministry of Labour and the Attorney-General’s Department, but no action has been take to date to enforce the Industrial Court Award to pay the workers what is rightfully theirs.
The employer in this case is openly flouting the laws of the land with impunity. The Government took tough and harsh actions against MAS workers on the ground of breaking the laws of the land, but appears to be very tender and forgetful when employers flout the laws of the land as in this case.
It is scandalous; to say the least, that employers could be allowed to get away from their legal obligations for so long. Employers appear to be more prepared to pay huge sums of money to conduct long litigations to upset industrial court awards, rather than to us the same sum of money to meet the workers’ claims.
Section 60(1) of the industrial Relations Act provide for penalties for any person who contravened the Act, as had been done by the Malayan Pineapple Company Sdn. Bhd I this case, of being liable to imprisonment for a year or a $1,000 fine or both. To a company which wants to evade a $65,000 award, a fine of $1,000 is no deterrent. This again shows up the weakness of the labour laws to protect the legitimate rights of workers.
In my letter to the Prime Minister, I urged him to use his good office to protect the workers’ lawful rights to ensure that employers are not allowed to flout the law with impunity.
Firm government action is also necessary so as not to make the Industrial Court lose credibility among the workers, as a court without teeth to enforce its awards.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, said the labour laws are ‘time bombs’ in the recent UMNO General Assembly, but unfortunately, he did not appear to think that they are time bombs because employers could use the many loopholes in the labour laws to run away their legal, social and moral obligations.