The prime minister’s floating of huge financial offers to both workers’ bodies is a tactical move to entice them to replace their independence with dependency, writes AH Ponniah.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and the Congress of Union of Employees in the Public and Civil Services Malaysia (Cuepacs) were offered large-scale funding by the prime minister.
Such funding would interfere with their ability to remain independent in this general election.
The legitimate financing of the establishment, functioning and administration of free and independent trade unions is done through union members fees. That collection of fees is provided for in the trade union constitution as authorised in the Trade Unions Act.
Employers’ financing of trade unions is forbidden because it is universally accepted as interference in the management of free and independent trade unions.
The Malaysian government has also guaranteed it by ratifying International Labour Organisation Convention no 98.
Parliament has also passed the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Section 4) to make any such interference a violation and a punishable offence.
This conventions and rules are there to safeguard free and independent trade unions, and indeed, the government is responsible for taking action where any violation occurs.
PM violates convention
But we find the preacher does not practise and set the model for the protection of free and independent unionism.
By offering funds to trade unions, the prime minister appears to undermine the government’s own law. What is more alarming is the amount and its timing before the general election. The way it was floated reflects the prime minister’s infamous “I help you, you help me” thinking.
The government acts as employer for 1.6m public sector workers and numerous government-linked corporations. The public sector has no collective bargaining rights and any gains are directly dependent on the prime minister’s discretion.
On the other hand, the private sector and government-linked corporations have collective bargaining rights as governed by the Industrial Relations Act.
The government also makes laws for the registration and deregistration of trade unions. In labour-management relations, it has power to intervene in trade disputes. So the government’s role as an important player in this is immense.
In the case of the relationship with MTUC, in the last Umno delegates conference, the prime minister proclaimed that the recently elected leadership was ‘pro-we’. It simply means the newly elected labour leaders are to be seen as his friendly allies.
As for Cuepacs, the generous goodies promised to them recently speaks for themselves.
Currently the trade unions in Malaysia are poorly organised. Labour centres are weak in local and international solidarity and strength and are vulnerable to external financial support and the undue influence that comes with it.
The prime minister’s floating of huge financial offers to both MTUC and Cuepacs is a tactical move in their weak moment to entice them to replace their independence with dependency. The offers are huge because RM3m each to the two bodies is equivalent to10 to 20 times the annual affiliation union fees they receive.
Funds assistance principle
Funding of trade unions by employers is unacceptable anywhere. Trade unions that receive such funding are called yellow trade unions, meaning employer-controlled unions.
Unions do expect and do get, where and when justified, solidarity funding assistance from trade- union linked sources for trade union education, research and training. Such funding is based on pre-prepared programmes, and the funds are scrutinised and accounted so they are not abused for prohibited payments (that produce employer-controlled unions), extravagant items or misappropriation.
Funding is usually based on proposed shared contributions with clear directions to achieve fully internally funded union education and training in an expected period. Experts would be engaged as part of the assistance to evaluate the entire processes. There is no freewheeling funding with ‘I help you, you help me’ back-scratching expectations in trade unionism.
Workers should not buy into this ugly trend: such huge funding violates their rights and their struggle to fight without any fettered obligation. They should steadfastly hold on to their free and independent union spirit under any circumstances. They should go forward and cast their ballots tomorrow without fear or favour.
AH Ponniah is a former Cuepacs secretary general (1989-1996) and MTUC vice-president (1976-1988).