Call on trade unions and workers to oppose the WA Amendment Bill for it will stifle the labour movement in denying workers the necessary information to fight for better socio-economic conditions

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the MTUC Youth Forum on “OSA, Retrenchments and Wage Freeze” at MTUC Hall, Petaling Jaya on Friday, 7.11.1986 at 6 p.m.

Call on trade unions and workers to oppose the WA Amendment Bill for it will stifle the labour movement in denying workers the necessary information to fight for better socio-economic conditions

On first look, your topic “Official Secrets Act, Retrenchments and Wage Freeze” appear to be a jumble of unrelated topics, but on further thought, they are in fact very inter-related.

Official Secret Act, and in particular, the horrifying 1986 Amendment Bill, which imposes the mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for any offence and the limitless definition of ‘official secret will not only muzzle the journalists, :;he politicians, the academicians and public interest groups, it will adversely affect the legitimate rights and aspirations of all workers and trade unions in the country.

Public service unions will of course be directly affected by the OSA Amendment Bill, for the cult of government secrecy and are denial of free flow of information will tie, he hands of the public service unions to get the necessary information to support their case, demands or grievances on behalf of public servants.

Trade unions in the private sector will also be adversely affected for it is a fallacy and short-sightedness for any trade union or worker in the private sector to think that the OSA has nothing to do with them on the ground that they are only interested in direct dealings with
their private sector employers on wage and service -condition issues.

Your topic spells out how the OSA can affect private sector unions and employees, for retrenchments and the wage freeze proposal of the government have a direct bearing on the employment standards and levels of workers in the private sector.

Trade unions in the private sector cannot just be concerned about the salary and service condition issues in their particular work establishments, disregarding the larger socio-economic issues and developments which determine whether there would d be massive retrenchments spiralling unemployement or the the issue of the wage freeze proposal of the government.

Trade unions and workers will not be representing their own best interests unless they participate fully in the national struggle to influence and improve socio-economic conditions where the workers have a respected and rightful place,,

However, trade unions and workers can only play this role if they have free access to information which could enable them to influence government decisions in areas like retrenchments, unemployment, wage freeze, etc.

Hypothetically, the government may have collected data and information in a study about retrenchments and unemployment from the private sector which would strengthen the trade union movement’s case, but although these information pertain to the private sector and has nothing to do with government secrets in the ordinary sense of the word, any access to it
by he trade unions or workers would bring them under the Official Secrets ,Act Amendment Bill entailing a mandotory mini-mum one-year jail sentence.
It has been rightly said that ‘Information is Power’, and deprived of information, the trade unions and workers are rendered powerless to improve their socio-economic conditions or to ensure that the workers are given their rightful due in the country’s national development process.

Employers are not unduly alarmed about the OSA in this regard, for they can always depend on a government which will uphold their class interest, in the employer-employee equation, though the employers may be worried about the OSA as citizens of a democratic society.

For this reason, I call on trade unions and workers to oppose the USA Amendment Bill 1986 in the strongest and most vigorous fashion, so as to block the passage of the Bill. The trade unions and workers must immediately make their opposition to the OSA Amendment Bill known to the Government now, and for the next four weeks, for it is no use complaining about the OSA Amendment bill after it had been passed in Parliament on Dec. 5 or 8.

The Government has failed to give any convincing reason why the country must enact the most draconian and undemocratic Official Secrets Act in the Commonwealth Parliamentary world. There are at least two coup-tries in the world where, the publication of ordinary statistics is a crime. Malaysia seems to be bent on joining this group of nations!

Trade unions and workers must defend their democratic right to the free slow of information, not only as citizens but because this have a direct bearing on them. They have the right to know how the country is being managed, for the government’s mismanagement of the economy and the country could be the biggest single cause of loss of confidence in the economic system resulting in failure in economic recovery, persistent mass retrenchment and high unemployment, and the necessity to resort to measures like wage freeze.

There is another dimension to your topic which is worth noting The three issue in your topic, OSA, retrenchments and wage freeze share another common denominator – the unwillingness of the government to operate a democratic system involving consultation and consensus with all groups in Malaysia to work out a national solution to our problems.

The government’s Proposal of a three-year wage freeze, to be imposed by compulsory legislation if not agreed to by the labour movement volunarily is one good example. In any country which believes in participatory democracy, all economic groups would have been fully consulted before the government comes out with any unilateral and arbitrary announcement of a wage freeze.

What the Government not should have done is to convene an Economic Summit of government, employer and trade union representatives to discuss the economic crisis facing the country and work out a national consensus and national package to tide the country over the crisis. The government should realise that the national economic crisis cannot be overcome with the Finance Minister’s pronouncements alone, if there is no national unity and resolve.

Drastic steps like the propos wage freeze must be fair to all sectors in Malaysia, for if only one section o f the people are expected to bear burdens and make sacrifices, the net result is greater dissension rather r than solution. For instance, if there is going to be a wage-freeze, there should also be a freeze on prices and profits. Why should the wage-freeze be for three years, and not on a year-by-year basis subject to annual review? What sacrifices are all Malaysians being asked to make to face the national economic crisis?

We should be asking and finding answers to these questions, instead of wanting to impose in Malaysia the most authoritarian OSA which wants to hut out public discussion on national problems with a blanket bon on all government information.