Government should ‘Look to Japan’ in the current review of 19 labour laws related to employment, industrial relations and workers’ welfare

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP Seminar, on ‘Labour and the Current Challenges organised by the DAP Labour Bureau at TWU hall, Petaling Jaya on Sunday, May 29, 1994 at 9.30 a.m.

Government should ‘Look to Japan’ in the current review of 19 labour laws related to employment, industrial relations and workers’ welfare

The Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Lim Ah Lek, announced last month that a tripartite committee had been set up to review all 19 labour laws related to employment, industrial relations and workers’ welfare in the country.

He said many of the laws are “outdated” and need to be reviewed and amended.

The Government should fully put into practice its ‘Look East Policy’ and ‘Look to Japan’ in the current review of the 19 labour laws.

The Constitution of Japan guaranteed the right of workers in all categories of industry to organise and to bargain collectively, and stipulated that the freedom to organise trade unions does not require any permission or notification from the government.

In Malaysia, for 23 years, the government has continued to thwart the formation of a union for the 130,000 electron¬ics workers. The 120,000 employees in statutory bodies and local authorities have also been fighting a 22-year battle for the right of association.

In Japan, 24 per cent of the workforce are organised in trade unions, while in Malaysia, only 9.6 per cent of the work force have been unionised. The latest figures the Malaysian government has released is that out of a workforce of 7.06 mil¬lion workers, 680,647 workers are union members – representing 9.64 per cent of the workforce.

This is a serious drawback, in the Malaysian labour movement as studies have confirmed that industries where workers are more unionised pay significant higher wages.

If the Malaysian Government is serious in its ‘Look East Policy’, then it should co-operate with the trade union movement to set the target to double the organisation and unionisation of the work force to 20 per cent by the year 2,000, in¬stead of blocking the unionisation of workers as in the electronics industry, the statutory bodies and local authorities.

If Malaysia emulates Japanese labour practices, then we will never have to reach a situation where the MTUC President, Zainal Rampak, is forced to resign as a member of Semangat 46 – for the Japanese Government fully respects the political activi¬ties not only of individual trade union leaders but even of trade unions and their confederations. In fact, Japanese unions have often fielded successful candidates for seats in the National Diet and prefectural assemblies through political parties.

The Malaysian Government would also not interfere in the local labour movement and trade union affairs, allowing the trade unions to be more autonomous and self-reliant. The most conspicuous example of such government interference in trade union affairs s is its rejection of the MTUC nominee as the Malaysian workers delegate to the International Labour organisation conference in Geneva next month.

The Government’s interference in the internal affairs of trade unions had increased and reached a stage where it has pursued an aggressive strategy to undermine the MTUC as the most representative labour centre in Malaysia.

The Government’s rejection of MTUC as the most representative labour centre is seen by its refusal to appoint MTUC nominees to various statutory bodies which had traditionally been reserved to the MTUC – like the Employees’ Provident Fund Board.

As a result, MTUS has been excluded from the current tripartite review of the 19 labour-related laws, as the Minister for Human Resources has also refused to appoint MTUC nominees to the National Labour Advisory Council.

Zainal Rampak’s conciliatory gesture in resigning as a member of an opposition party has not been reciprocated at all by the Ministry of Human Resources, and it is most regrettable that the Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Lim Ah Lek, has been advised to continue with his confrontation attitude with the MTUC.

I would urge Datuk Lim Ah Lek to ‘Look to Japan’, end his confrontation with MTUC and to officially appoint MTUC nominees to the NJLAC so as to involve MTUC in the review of the 19 labour-related laws in the country.

It is a great fallacy for anyone to pretend that trade unions and workers have nothing to do with politics, as it is the politicians in Government and Parliament who finally enact legislation which directly affect their welfare and future.

So long as this fallacy is perpetuated – resulting in the MTUC President having to resign his political party membership – so long will workers and trade unions be hampered from seeking political redress to bring about amelieration to their working conditions.

Some 10,000 people had been detained under ISA since 1960

Workers and trade unions divorce themselves from political forces I country at their own peril.

Workers and trade unions cannot pretend, for instance, that undemocratic laws like the Internal Security Act are no concern of their.

Since its passage in 1960, about 10,000 people had been detained under the Internal Security Act – including over 3,7000 who were served with formal detention orders after being detained for more than sixty days – and these included workers and trade unionists.

Workers and trade unions therefore must continue to be concerned about large national issues and involve themselves in the democratisation process – as in the demand for the repeal of the ISA.

I hope trade unions and their leaders would come forward to be more active in the campaign for greater liberalisation and democratisation of the nation-building policies to give every Malaysian an equal place under the Malaysian sun.