Would it not be better for employers and employees to work within a partnership framework, asks Ronald Benjamin.
In the capitalist system that Malaysia has inherited from the British since independence, we tend to have an employment contractual agreement that is framed within the perspective of a master-servant relationships.
It is settled in law that the employee is required at all times to act in a faithful manner and not place himself or herself in a position where the employee’s actions can breach the trust relationship between employer and employee. If the employee does an act which is inconsistent with the fiduciary relationship with the employer, it will be an act of bad faith for which the employee’s service can be terminated.
This is reinforced in the context of ‘Asian values’ where the overall rights of the community and the development of the country takes precedence over individual rights.
This is cemented by authoritarian power that tolerates no dissent while forging strong partnership between the government and the private sector.
In the larger context of the global economic situation, there is a worrying trend where a comprehensive partnership of nations is the rule of the day: corporate and government interests merge with the rules of trade that basically reinforce the master-servant relationship in the name of progress.
The Belt and Road initiative led by China and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) led by Japan and Australia are examples of trends where government and business play a pivotal role shaping the vision of industrial relations.
It is in this evolving political, social and cultural contextual that started from colonial rule to this day that employers in this country have structured their contract of employment on the basis of a master-servant relationship.
Is this not reason that issues like minimum wages become contentious when in fact, there could be a broader partnership between employer and employees by engaging creatively on compensation and benefits that could minimise the fixed cost that comes with minimum wage?
Would it not be better for employers and employees to work within a partnership framework where there could be a structural transition to a high-value chain in creating higher-value products through a focus on human capital development?
The current terms and conditions of employment of unionised and non-unionised workers basically spell out the obligations of the workers without mentioning the reciprocal relationship that would create trust, which is vital for the organisation to progress in this digital age.
The master-servant relationship obviously seems to hold sway even though many changes have taken place in the horizontal chain of the technological and knowledge domain, where collaboration through partnerships and between employer and employee is seen as a way forward in enhancing human capital development that would uplift socioeconomic progress in the country in the long run.
The Ministry of Human Resources Ministry must therefore review the current tripartite understanding of industrial relations through dialogue with industry representatives and unions and come up with a new enlightened philosophy and vision of industrial relations. It should evolve from a master-servant relationship to a partnership that would create a sense of trust and belonging, which is essential for human capital development.
The singular obsession with minimum wage has restrained the capacity for collaboration for the larger interest of the nation. A new impetus is needed for a fiduciary relationship, which has to work both ways.
In this new order, the fiduciary is not merely about the obligations of the employee in working faithfully for the employer; it also means that the employer should also faithfully play a role in creating opportunities for the development of the workforce, which would result in a win-win situation.
Industrial relations needs a new philosophy and vision that does away with master-servant relationships.