Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, when closing the “Malaysian Indian Economic Congress 1990 organized by the Tamilian Social & Welfare Association at the Chinese Assembly Hall, Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, May 1, 1990 at 5.30 p.m.
If trade union leaders should be apolitical, then the Minister for Human Resources should set the example and resign as MCA National Vice President or allow a non-politician to be appointed Minister
In the last few days, the question of the political role of trade union leaders has resurfaced as a controversy because of the brickbats by Government leaders, led by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, over the decision by the MTUC President, Zainal Rampak, to join Parti Semangat 46.
This is clearly a ‘sour grapes’ reaction by the Barisan Nasional leaders, for I have no doubt that the Barisan Nasional leaders would have no objections if Zainal Rampak had chosen to join UMNOBaru instead.
Is UMNO Baru or any Barisan Nasional party going to amend its Party Constitution to bar trade union leaders from becoming party members?
Surely, UMNO Baru and the other Barisan Nasional parties are not declaring that they will bar trade union leaders from becoming party members or officials? If they are not prepared to make this declaration, and amend their Party Constitution to say that trade union officials are not allowed to be members, their complaints about Zainal Rampak’s decision to join Semangat 46 sound insincere and hypocritical.
The human Resources Minister, Datuk Lim Ah Lek, said today that trade unions must be apolitical to be an effective organization in pursuing the betterment of workers’ welfare.
If trade union leaders should be apolitical, then the Minister for Human Resources should set the example and Datuk Lim Ah Lek should resign as MCA National Vice President or allow a non-politician to become Minister.
How can Ministers who are 100 per cent ‘political’ tell trade union leaders to be ‘apolitical’? Are the employers apolitical? It is open secret that the employers are big-time contributors to the UMNO and Barisan Nasional general elections fund, and have a direct hot-line to the very top levels of Barisan Nasional leadership as to their needs and wishes.
If the Ministers are sincere that employers should be apolitical, is the UMNO Baru and Barisan Nasional prepared to openly announce that henceforth they would not accept political contributions from big companies and managements, and open up their party funds for public inspection to ensure that there are no such contributions from these employers?
If the big employers are definitely not apolitical, why should trade unions be apolitical?
Trade union leaders opt out of politics at the price of betraying the greater interests of the workers
Responsible and effective trade union leaders have to protect the interest and welfare of workers on two fronts, firstly on the employer-employee relationship, and secondly, to ensure that labour laws and conditions are just and fair to enable workers to fully enjoy the fruits of their labour and prevent the gross labour exploitation which is prevalent today.
The trade union leaders can only effectively carry out the second limb of their responsibilities to the
workers if they involve themselves actively in the political decision-making process, for it is the politicians who pass laws in Parliament which can have such adverse effects on the workers.
In my 21 years as Member of Parliament, I have not seen a Barisan National Government MP standing up in Parliament to speak up for the cause of the workers and the trade union movement. Every time a labour issue was raised in Parliament, it is by the DAP!
The workers are entitled to ask why there has never been a Labour Minister who was a former trade unionist, who was a former trade unionist, who understands the sufferings and aspirations of the workers in Malaysia? Why is the Labour Minister invariably a member of the upper classes, who feel more at home with the employers than with the workers? I do not know whether this is one reason for the change of the name of the Ministry, because the present Minister is very uncomfortable with the word ‘labour’, that he preferred the more unlabour like term of ‘human resources’.
Trade union leaders cannot opt out of [politics and go ‘apolitical’ without abdicating their responsibilities and abandoning their role in the political decision-making process. They have only themselves to blame if as a result of such abdication, more and more anti-labour laws and regulations are passed by Parliament to the detriment of the rights and interests of the workers.
This is why I say that trade union leaders can only opt out of politics by betraying the larger interests of the workers.
What I have said about the issues of the political role of trade unionists and the workers is equally relevant t your Conference them today,” Malaysian Indian Economic Congress 1990 – An Analysis of their status: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.
In the final analysis, the future of the Malaysian Indians in Malaysia will depend their ability to mobilize and exercise their political rights as Malaysian citizens.
PNB denying estate workers their basic political and democratic rights by prohibiting Opposition parties from giving political ceramahs to them
But n Malaysia, 34 years after Merdeka, estate workers are still in political servitude. PNB, the single largest plantation group in the country controlling over 36 per cent of the plantation sector, is denying their basic political and democratic rights by prohibiting Opposition parties from giving political ceramahs to the estate workers.
The PNB managements claim that its estates are its private property, and the workers have no political right to hold ceramahs by Opposition parties. The ban does not apply in the case of Barisan Nasional parties.
This mean that hundreds of thousands of estate workers are denied the constitutional right of freedom of speech, assembly and association in the most precious of their citizenship rights, i.e. to fully participate in the political decision-making process of the country.
No wonder, the plight of the estate workers is one of the worst in Malaysia, although it must be stressed
that estate workers do not comprise only of Indians. In rubber estate, 36.6% of all workers are Malays, 14.5% are Chinese and 51.5& are Indians. In palm oil estates, 30.4% are Malays, 7% are Chinese, 36.5% are Indian and rest non-citizens.
A sample survey by Socio-Economic Research Unit (SERU) in 1981 found that only 49% of the households in the estate had pipe water supply, 39%used stand-pipes, 10%used wells and 1% used river water. Estates have poor medical, housing, educational, transport and recreational facilities.
I submit that one important reason for this is because the estate workers have been denied their political rights by the estate managements, in particular by the PNB, which in effect means the Barisan Nasional Government, as PNB is only its vehicle.
While the country is entering the 1990s, and a decade away from the 21st century, the hundreds of thousands of estate workers in Malaysia are still kept in colonial subjection without real political rights.
The first step to freedom for the estate workers to improve their lot is the restoration of their Constitutional and political rights, and the lifting of the ban by PNB on Opposition parties from holding ceramahs in estate for estate workers.
DAP calls for the appointment of a third Deputy Education Minister with the special task of upgrading the standard of education of the 550 Tamil primary schools and promoting the use and study of Tamil language
The Tamil primary schools in the country are the most disadvantaged schools in the country. About 85 per can of the 550 Tamil primary schools are in the estate s, where about 90 per cent of them have enrolment below 200 and are attended mainly by children of the poor.
About 70 per cent of these schools have the single teacher responsible with the multiple-classes. They lack satisfactory physical and educational facilities, resulting in low levels of achievement and the highest drop-out rates.
I suggest that a third Deputy Education Minister should be appointed with the special task of upgrading the standard of education of the 550 Tamil primary schools, and promoting the use and study of Tamil language as guaranteed in Article 152 of the Malaysian Constitution, whether in secondary or tertiary education, but also in other spheres of national life.
Call on Cabinet Committee on Educational Act Amendments to immediately make public the government’s proposals and recommendations
The Government has set up a six-man Cabinet Committee on Educational Act amendments. Although the government has spent a few years on the Education Act amendments, it has refused to make public the various government proposals and recommendations for public study and discussion.
This is most undemocratic, as the amendments to the education law and the education system would have far-reaching effect for all Malaysians, as well as the position of mother-tongue education and use in Malaysia.
For this reason, all Malaysians should urge the Cabinet Committee on Education Act amendments to immediately release the government’s proposal and recommendations, and ensure that the public have at least six months to one year to study the proposals and recommendations.