In conjunction with Labour Day 2021, the Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) calls on the government to explain whether it has suspended the labour law reform exercise indefinitely.
Since the formation of the new government in February 2020, the LLRC has been requesting meetings with the Ministry of Human Resources and has sent multiple letters in relation to the amendments to the Trade Union Act 1959, the Employment Act 1955 and the secret ballot formula (for union recognition).
Regrettably, we did not receive any response from the ministry regarding estimated dates for enacting the Trade Union Act, Employment Act and new secret ballot regulation. The government continues to remain silent after the proclamation of a state of emergency in January 2021.
Trade unions and worker organisations are frustrated with the absence of progress in labour law reform after the Industrial Relations Act took effect with plenty of reservations. Workers hit by Covid lack a proper bargaining platform because of the low unionisation rate of 6%.
In celebrating Labour Day 2021, we urge the government to:
- Immediately reconvene Parliament, pass the amendments to the Trade Union Act and the Employment Act proposed by the Ministry of Human Resources in 2019
- Remove reservations imposed on the Industrial Relations Act and allow trade unions to seek recognition with companies beyond the existing trade, industry and occupation
- Revamp the secret ballot formula by vote-cast to ensure a fair union recognition process
- Ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on freedom of association and ensure that our industrial relations system is fully in compliance with the ILO Convention 98 on the right to organise and collective bargaining ratified by the government
- Kick off discussions on the new minimum wage rate for 2021 at the National Wages Consultative Council and implement it as soon as possible
- Make a new ministerial regulation and define e-hailing riders as workers, so that they can form trade unions and bargain collectively with employers
- Enact a standalone Sexual Harassment Act and ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment
- Set up a migrant workers’ hotline at the Labour Department to deal with complaints including confiscation of passports and wage arrears. Increase labour inspection to ensure domestic workers can enjoy one day off every week
- Set up a royal commission of inquiry to investigate all kinds of problems facing migrant workers
- Fully implement and enforce the Employees’ Minimum Standards of Housing, Accommodations and Amenities Act as a measure of community infection control
- Overhaul the social protection system, and extend protection for unemployed workers, informal workers and those who fall below the poverty line during the Covid pandemic
- Amend the Employees’ Provident Fund Act to include additional incomes such as tips in the service sector as wages in calculating EPF contributions
N Gopal Kishnam and Irene Xavier are co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition