Press Statement by Labour Law Reform Coalition on 16 June 2022 in Shah Alam
Labour Law Reform Coalition is taking note of the discontent and anxiety among some trade unions on the government’s intention to implement freedom of association at workplaces, particularly allowing more than one union at workplace.
The Trade Union Bill 2022 will be tabled for the second reading in the parliament in July 2022. The proposed deletion of section 12(2), if passed in the parliament, will remove the Director-General’s power to refuse registering a trade union if there is in existence a trade union and he/she is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the workers.
In a nutshell, if it is being implemented, workers at any workplace can freely establish and join trade unions of their choice, a key principle of the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and protection of the right to organize.
Historically, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) already called on the government to ratify ILO Convention 87 in 1971 and campaigned relentlessly for implementation of freedom of association. LLRC’s symposium on freedom of association in September 2019 also passed a resolution to call for ratification of Convention 87.
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which MTUC is an affiliate, has been consistently urging Malaysian government to ratify Convention 87. The article 10(1)(c) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia also guarantees every citizen has the right to form associations.
The current Trade Union Act 1959 severely restricted workers’ right to join unions of their choice. This resulted in extreme low unionisation and collective bargaining coverage in Malaysia. Less than 2% is covered by collective agreements. The overall proposed amendments actually provide a great opportunity to organise the unrepresented 94 percent workers.
However, the restrictive Trade Union Act and oppression of the labour movement caused distrust between the unions and the government. Every new move to amend the Trade Union Act 1959 will be seen as an attempt to further weaken or destroy trade unions. That’s why many unions see the implementation of freedom of association will destroy unions and erode unity and solidarity of workers.
LLRC urges the Ministry to Human Resources (MOHR) to hold an immediate dialogue with the trade union community before the second reading of Trade Union Bill 2022 to rebuild the trust between the unions and the government. A deliberative democratic process should be adopted to make trade unions’ voices heard by the government.
We sincerely hope that an amicable solution could be reached, and trade unions remain united for a progressive future envisioned by far-sighted MTUC leaders in the 1970s.
N. Gopal Kishnam
Labour Law Reform Coalition