The Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC) welcomes Human Resources Minister M Saravanan’s announcement that amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1967 would come into force on 1 January.
These positive amendments include the abolishment of punishment for picketing and strikes; allowing trade unions to also negotiate general issues related to the exchange, recruitment and termination of services due to labour surplus, dismissal and reinstatement; and repealing the minister’s power to refer representations on dismissal cases to the Industrial Court and giving this power to the director general for industrial relations.
These amendments will improve workers’ rights and speed up the justice process, and they are a step towards bringing the country’s labour legislation in line with international standards.
However, the LLRC urges the government to not stop at just these amendments but to continue to enhance and improve worker protection in Malaysia. The government of Malaysia must not stop here, but now continue by tabling and passing amendments to the Trade Union Act 1959 and the Employment Act 1955 in Parliament in the first quarter of 2021.
“Amendments to the Trade Union Act are key because it is interlocked with the Industrial Relations Act. Without amending the Trade Union Act, trade unions cannot enjoy the new parameters of freedom of association partially guaranteed under Industrial Relations amendments,” LLRC co-chairperson N Gopal Kishnam said.
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The Employment Act must also be amended to improve basic work conditions, including legislating non-exploitative working hours, broadening the salary range which falls under the law’s purview and treating domestic work as work. It must also enhance protection of migrant workers to prevent labour and rights violations such as employers withholding passports, lack of access to remedies and inhumane work conditions.
“While these amendments are heartening, more can be done. The authorities must also ensure that they step up enforcement to ensure that employers are indeed complying with these new regulations,” LLRC co-chairperson Irene Xavier said.
“We also urge the government and relevant bodies such as the Malaysian Trades Unions Congress and the Malaysian Employers Federation to ratify or support the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 to curb violence and harassment in the workplace in the next international labour conference in June 2021.”
Comprehensive and substantive labour law reform is a key strategy to increase the labour share of income from 35.7% in 2018 to the 48% target aimed by the government’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Delaying further labour law reforms may hamper the government’s roadmap to achieve the ambitious target within the timeline.
The LLRC is ready to provide its support to the ministry’s proposals on labour law amendments, but it urges the government to pass and implement these proposals before the next general election.
The LLRC commits to continually engage with the government and will push for incremental changes until Malaysia has reached various international labour standards.
N Gopal Kishnam and Irene Xavier are co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition