When union leaders become employers’ mouthpieces, workers are betrayed

Unions fights for workers, and their leaders should never become or be seen as employers’ agents, says Charles Hector.

Cuepacs president Azih Muda - Photograph: antarapos.com

Cuepacs president Azih Muda – Photograph: antarapos.com

Ordinarily, if a union leader makes a public statement akin to an employer’s agent rather than a workers’ representative, there would be reactions from union members, even maybe the call for an extra-ordinary general meeting calling for a ‘no confidence’ motion.

Cuepacs president Azih Muda, according to a Bernama report, in my opinion, behaved like an agent of the employer, the government, and was reportedly taking a stance that civil servants who involve themselves in a peaceful assembly protesting the Good and Services Tax (GST) “could be considered as traitors and do not deserve to be called civil servants”.

I have stated before that civil servants must not get involved in any gathering against the government as they had taken the oath… so whether they like it or not, they must abide by the rules…. If they are dissatisfied and wish to take part in such a gathering, they should leave the public sector… – Cuepacs president Azih Muda

Has he surrendered the right of employees of the government to their freedom of expression, opinion and freedom of assembly? Have employees of the government lost their rights as citizens – the right to have their say in a democracy? [If the government itself, be it the Prime Minister or some Minister or the Chief Secretary of the government said this, it would have been all right - but not a person who is seen to represent workers in the public sector?]

Did he say this to get into the good books of the Prime Minister who was present at the function? Note also that maybe the reporters may have got it wrong, and the Cuepacs President may have misunderstood…?

Cuepacs is a labour centre whose members are public sector employee unions. The employer of these employees is the government. Is there a protest occurring within Cuepacs over the statement issued by its president, Azih Muda? We do not know.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), the labour centre repreenting over 300 unions, and which is recognised by Malaysia and even the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as the representative of workers in Malaysia sadly have kept quiet. No statements in the media (which may not have carried such statements or reported them) …and when we look at the MTUC website, we also see no response.

Workers are required only to perform the work for which they have been employed efficiently. Employers have no right to try and control the workers’ beliefs, values, opinions, political affiliations, actions and other basic rights – more so when these rights are claimed and exercised outside working hours.

Can government employees campaign for free and fair elections? Can government employees call for Lynas to be expelled from Malaysia? Can they campaign for an end to detention without trial laws, deaths in custody, etc?

Can they be involved in the campaign for the implementation of hudud or against it? Can they campaign for the abolition of GST? Can they call on the government not to sign the TPPA? Yes, yes, yes … workers are human beings… and they have human rights… and employers have no total control of workers in Malaysia especially over what they do outside working hours. Remember, workers are not slaves.

In a democracy like Malaysia’s, people have the right to support or not to support certain proposals, laws and policies – and people who work for the government do not surrender away these rights just because they are working for the government.

Now, as the Cuepacs president, Azih should have called on the Prime Minister and the government to respect the human and citizen rights of workers in the public sector. He should have been attacking the use of threats of transfers or terminations of workers in the public sector who exercise these rights outside their working hours.

He should have stressed that as employees of the government, they will do the work they are employed for professionally and as required, without bringing in their own ‘politics’ and other beliefs during working hours.

He should have stressed that Cuepacs is happy that this Malaysian government employs workers irrespective of political affiliations, beliefs and opinions – so much so that come general elections, workers in the public sector can freely vote for whoever they feel is best. \

He should have stressed that as citizens, public sector workers must also be free to oppose proposed or even existing government policies, practices and laws – and that aspects of the existing ‘Aku janji’ and/or Service Pledge that goes contrary to this principle must now be amended or even repealed.

As Cuepacs president, he should have criticised the use of threats of transfers, etc directly against workers in the public sector who exercise their rights as citizens outside working hours as these are contrary to the principles of democracy. Likewise, promotions should also just be based on work skills/ability – never on any other factors like whether or not the the workers happen to be union leaders or not, their political affiliations, religion, ethnicity, other involvements in the exercise of their rights outside work.

But alas, Azih Muda is a new Cuepacs president, maybe also awed by the occasion which was attended by the PM. He may learn to be a better advocate for worker rights … [We never got hold of the full text of his speech or a record of all that was said to the media - for after all, the media can also be guilty of just picking this and not that ... to report.]

I do hope that Azih Muda would come out and clarify whether what was stated in the Bernama report, carried by NST and Malaysian Insider, was accurate or not … I do hope that what was reported was wrong.

Interestingly, the employer (the government or the PM) did not come and warn workers about their ‘service pledge’, or call them ‘traitors’ or even ask them to resign as public sector employees in the said media reports …. so it was just the Cuepacs leader that saw this as an issue, not even PM Najib Razak.

Unions fights for workers, and should never become or be seen as employers’ agents.

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