Home Civil Society Voices 2015 Civil Society Voices NGOs: Recognise unions; don’t deny freedom of association.

NGOs: Recognise unions; don’t deny freedom of association.

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We, the 67 undersigned trade unions, civil society organisations and groups, are shocked that Malaysian government-owned Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB), the company that took over Malaysian Airline System Berhad, chose to ignore the application for recognition by the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam).

In Malaysia, before a union can proceed to negotiate and enter into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the employer needs to recognise the said trade union. MAB’s failure to immediately recognise Nufam reflects badly on Malaysia which has the duty to respect workers’ rights, especially the freedom of association, which is also a right enshrined in the Malaysian Federal Constitution.

In accordance to the existing law, Nufam applied to MAB for recognition through a letter dated 11 September 2015.

Section 9(3) of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 states that “an employer or a trade union of employers upon whom a claim for recognition has been served shall, within twenty-one days after the service of the claim – (a) accord recognition; or (b) if recognition is not accorded, notify the trade union of workmen concerned in writing the grounds for not according recognition…”

MAB did not even have courtesy of replying to Nufam within the stipulated 21 days, which can be considered conduct unbecoming especially of a Malaysian government-owned company.

As required by law, through a letter delivered on 6 October 2015, Nufam then reported the matter in writing to the director general for Industrial Relations to take such steps or make such enquiries to ascertain the “the competence of the trade union of workmen concerned to represent any workmen or class of workmen” in MAB, and to determine “by way of secret ballot, the percentage of the workmen or class of workmen, in respect of whom recognition is being sought, who are members of the trade union of workmen making the claim”. The result of the secret ballot must demonstrate that more than 50 per cent of the qualified employees are for the union, whereby those who never had the opportunity to vote are taken as being against the union.

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More than 40 days have lapsed, and the director general for Industrial Relations has not yet responded to Nufam. Given that many employees are hired as fixed-term contract employees, speedy efficient action is required by the authorities. Delay prejudices workers.

Even when unions in Malaysia are successful in demonstrating that they have the support of more than 50 per cent of all qualified employees in a secret ballot, and the minister decides that recognition is to be accorded by the employer, some employers are challenging this decision in court, and as a result rights that come with recognition are put on hold for many years to the detriment of workers and their union.

When Malaysia Airlines was previously operated by Malaysian Airline System Berhad (MAS Bhd), Nufam succeeded at the secret ballot and the minister decided that Nufam was recognised by MAS Bhd. Unfortunately, MAS Bhd commenced a judicial review action in court challenging the minister’s decision, and this case is still pending.

Union busting – Creating a new legal entity

Private sector companies have been known, in the past, to form a new separate legal entity and then to transfer assets and business from the existing company to this new entity, thereby killing existing unions – forcing workers to start all over again to form, register and get recognition of unions in the new entity. This strategy is also used to get rid of worker leaders and workers brave enough to fight exploitation.

It is disappointing that the Malaysian government is using a similar ‘union-busting’ strategy for government-owned and/or government-linked companies (GLCs).

Malaysian Airline System Berhad (MAS Bhd) was the company running Malaysia Airlines with about 20,000 employees. What was done was that MAS Bhd apparently transferred their assets and the airline business to a newly created separate legal entity, Malaysian Airlines Berhad (MAB) and terminated about 20,000 MAS Bhd employees.

MAB, the new company that took over Malaysia Airlines, employed new employees, amongst them some 14,000 ex-MAS Bhd employees. All the in-house trade unions that existed in MAS Bhd were effectively killed.

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Now, MAB is free of trade unions.

Nufam may be the first union that is seeking recognition from MAB – whereby recognition is needed to better represent their worker members in MAB and to enter into a collective bargaining agreement.

Moratorium on all court action involving MAS Bhd

To make matters worse, Malaysia passed a new law – Malaysian Airline System Berhad (Administration) Act 2015, which amongst others, effectively prevented speedy access to justice through the courts. A moratorium was put in place preventing court actions involving MAS Bhd from proceeding. When the moratorium is finally lifted, it would likely be too late. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Malaysian government owns the old and new company

Malaysian government, through its strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional, owns both MAS Bhd and this new MAB. Hence, it is the current Barisan Nasional government under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak that is now possibly guilty of union busting. The denial of speedy recognition of Nufam and possibly other unions by the new Malaysian Airline Berhad (MAB) can be said to be anti-worker and anti-trade union conduct.

Malaysian trade union laws are oppressive and anti-worker.

We call for:

  • The immediate recognition by Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB), a Malaysian-owned company, of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam);
  • The Malaysian government to ensure that all government-owned and/or government-linked companies (GLCs) set the highest standards when it comes to respecting workers’ and trade union rights in Malaysia;
  • That Malaysia immediately amend and/or repeal trade union laws that are not compliant with international standards especially freedom of association.

Charles Hector
Mohd Roszeli bin Majid
Pranom Somwong

For and on behalf the 62 organisations, trade unions and groups listed below

Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC)
Association of Maybank Executives
BPSLU (Batangas Pier Stevedores and Dockworkers Labour Union), Philippines
Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Philippines
Centro De Reflexión Y Acción Laboral (Cereal), México
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC)
Committee for Asian Women (CAW)
CBBRC (Crispin B. Beltran Resource Centre), Philippines
Daeduck Employees Union- Ind. , Philippines
Eagle Ridge Employees Union, Philippines
Electronic Industry Employees Union (EIEU) Southern Region, Peninsular Malaysia
GoodElectronics Network
Hyesung Workers Union-Ind., Philippines
Institute for Development of Alternative Living (Ideal)
Institut Rakyat
Inverclyde Advice and Employment Rights Centre, Scotland
Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM)
Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia
Jawatankuasa Bertindak Kuala Lumpur Tak Nak Insinerator
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Philippines
Kesatuan Eksekutif Airod
Kesatuan Eksekutif Canon Opto
Kesatuan Pekerja-Pekerja Mitsui Copper Foil (MCFEU)
Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
Lintas Nusa – Batam Indonesia
Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
Malaysian Youth and Students’ Democratic Movement (Dema)
Malaysia Physicians for Social Responsibility
MAP Foundation for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labour, Thailand
Migrant Care
Myanmar Migrants Rights Centre
Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Keyrin Electronics-Ind., Philippines
Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM)
National Union Employees in Companies Manufacturing Rubber Products (NUECMRP)
National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam)
National Union of Journalist (NUJ) Cawangan Utusan Melayu
National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW)
North South Initiative
Paper Products Manufacturing Employees’ Union of Malaysia (PPMEU)
Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM)
Pax Romana ICMICA
People and Planet
Perak Women for Women Society
Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Projek Dialog, Malaysia
Sahabat Rakyat 人民之友
Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Eagle Ridge Golf Course and Residential Estate, Philippines
Save Rivers
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
Selangor and KL Hokkien Association Youth Section
Solidarity of Cavite Workers, Philippines
Tenaga Nasional Junior Officers Union (TNBJOU)
The Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma)
Workers Assistance Center, Inc (WAC) , Philippines
Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)
Yayasan Chow Kit
Yayasan Lintas Nusa – Batam Indonesia
Committee For Workers’ International CWI Malaysia)
Cividep, India
Kesatuan Pekerja-Pekerja Dalam Perkhidmatan Perubatan Dan Kesihatan Swasta
Kesatuan Pekerja-pekerja Perodua EngineManufacturing Sdn. Bhd
Kesatuan Pekerja-Pekerja Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd (KPP Proton)

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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John Fam
26 Nov 2015 10.07pm

We the Malaysian public are schocked that Nufam wats to create trouble with the new MAB. We also state that the failure of MAS the former company is because of Nufam.

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