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MTUC nationwide picket against Employment Act amendments

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Anil Netto reports on the MTUC’s nationwide picket against amendments to the Employment Act last month.

Photograph: Sembang-sembang

Almost a thousand people in Prai braved a downpour to make their feelings known against the proposed amendments to the Employment Act. The protest was part of a nationwide MTUC picket in 17 locations in the country on 3 November 2011.

The protest began at 5.00pm just as workers were returning home from work.

Passing motorists, especially factory and express bus drivers and lorries heading to the Prai Industrial Estate honked in support as they drove by, each time raising huge cheers from the crowd, many of them with brollies up.

Protesters chanted, “Don’t amend labour laws”, “Jangan tindas pekerja”, and “hancur BN”. The continuous honking of passing motorists was deafening but no one seemed to mind.

In 2007, about a thousand people turned up in Prai as part of a similar nationwide MTUC picket to call for a minimum wage. It was the first step – ahead of the Bersih and Hindraf demonstrations later that year – in the build-up to the “perfect storm” that struck during the March 2008 general election.

Photograph: Sembang-sembang

Apart from factory workers and trade unionists, the crowd in Prai also included several activists from Penang-based NGOs that are part of the Penang Forum.

Many plainclothes police gathered around, some with video cameras. A few uniformed police guided traffic while others stood around observing.

The demonstration lasted 80 minutes and ended peacefully.

In KL, another 500 people turned up at a gathering in Jalan Raja Laut, while in PJ a crowd gathered along Jalan Barat. Another protest took place in Shah Alam while over in Ipoh, some 200 people gathered in front of the MTUC office.

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Workers are worried that the amendments to the Employment Act would dramatically alter employer-employee relationship in situations where outsourced workers supplied by ‘contractors of labour’ are used. The amendments would regard the contractor rather than the factory owner as the employer. In this way, factory owners would be able to wash their hands off their traditional responsibility to the workers, and the workers’ right to unionise would be undermined.

So far, 115 civil society groups from across the region have endorsed a memorandum opposing the amendments.

Anil Netto is honorary treasurer of Aliran

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