Has elitism crept into MTUC?

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The Association for Community and Dialogue is puzzled by the behaviour of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress in rejecting amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177).

Is this some more myopic thinking similar to the blunder of not endorsing the Geneva convention on violence and harassment at the workplace? After drawing flak from members of civil society, it came to its senses but by then it was too late for regret.

At least the Labour Law Reform Coalition has come up with an objective assessment of the amendments to Act 177, rather than categorically opposing them.

Due to the shortsightedness among Malaysian Trades Union Congress leaders and their counterparts in the Malaysian Employers Federation, Malaysia is still far behind in enhancing its labour standards. Countries like Vietnam have moved ahead in various aspects of labour conventions where the common good binds various interests.

The MTUC should come up with the real reason it opposes the amendments to Act 177. Is it due to a fear of losing its monopoly over trade union matters?

The Ministry of Human Resources has tabled an amendment bill to the Industrial Relations Act 1967 for the first and second reading in Parliament.

The ministry said “the amendments are part of the holistic review and in conformity to international standards in bringing transformation to the industrial relations landscape in the country”.

The amendments, it said, were discussed at length with various stakeholders and will overhaul industrial relations practice in Malaysia, particularly in relation to unfair dismissal claims and trade unions.

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However, MTUC president Abdul Halim Mansor and MTUC secretary-general J Solomon have stated that the MTUC was never consulted.

While MTUC headquarters appears to object to the amendments, I am puzzled that Sarawak MTUC has issued a statement hailing and welcoming the amendments.

Sarawak MTUC secretary Andrew Lo said the amendments were a game-changer for industrial relations as they would help in increasing trade unions, which could play an effective role in a robust industrial relations system.

Lo even went on to say that the human resources ministry had held comprehensive and robust consultations with not just the principal stakeholders like the MTUC and the MEF but also with other workers and employers’ groups, NGOs, and the International Labour Organization.

So who is right and who is wrong?

Though I was not privy to the those consultations and engagement sessions, I believe the ministry should respond quickly to clear the air over the contradicting statements from MTUC headquarters and Sarawak MTUC.

It is also baffling that the MTUC president and secretary-general are objecting to the amendments aside from the claim that they were not consulted. Will the amended clauses have negative consequences for the workers in the country?

The fact is, elitism has crept into MTUC, where its leaders are unable to conceive the new reality of the digital world, where horizontal interaction will emerge and competition for service will be the order of day with little need for elites to determine the nature of unionism and future of work.

I believe this is the first time the Ministry of Human Resources has been able to conduct a revamp of the Industrial Relations Act 1967, to be in line with the promise by Pakatan Harapan to enhance and improve workers’ protection. There are certain shortcomings, highlighted by the Labour Law Reform Coalition, which the ministry should look into. While holistic reform is vital, it should not in any way stop workers from benefiting from the initial fruits.

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So, to the MTUC: Let’s appreciate and celebrate this success and move on.

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