Unions have the right to speak out on workers’ welfare

The attempt to muzzle the trade union movement's right to freedom of expression - by none other than the minister - is both repulsive and unprecedented

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Photograph: Choo Choy May/Malay Mail

The Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress finds it disturbing that the human resources minister has resorted to lodging a police report against the National Union Of Bank Employees (Nube) for voicing its concerns over the ministry’s decision to suspend the enforcement of the minimum workers’ housing regulations.

Trade unions, as components of the civil society movement, have a duty to raise issues concerning the workers’ welfare. Members of the trade union fraternity have constantly voiced their concerns against the multiple problems by workers. Outdated labour laws, the lack of a comprehensive social security protection system, the socioeconomic woes of those trapped in the low and middle income have been the concern of the trade union movement. On these concerns, we believe the trade union movement has a duty to speak out without fear or favour.

Sadly, the minister seems to have taken criticism of the decision to suspend the enforcement of the minimum workers’ housing regulations, out of context. Lodging a police report against Nube over its opinion on the ministry’s decision to suspend the workers’ minimum housing regulations goes against the ideals of freedom of expression.

The attempt to muzzle the trade union movement’s right to freedom of expression – by none other than the minister – is both repulsive and, we believe, unprecedented. Instead of finding fault with the trade unions, the minister should take proactive measures to ensure laws, such as the workers’ minimum housing regulations, are enforced as so enacted by Parliament.

Regardless of the minister’s sensitivity to objective criticism, we in the trade union movement will not hesitate to escalate our views regarding the problems faced by the working population of the country. That is our obligation, and that is what we will continue to articulate, irrespective of any threats in whatever form.

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K Veeriah is secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress

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