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Trade Union Act amendments will create divisions in union movement


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The caretaker Human Resources Minister, in tabling amendments to the Trade Union Act, 1959 allowing for a multiplicity of trade unions, is supposed to have said that it was to conform with the conditions set out in the Comprehensive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade agreement.

In broad terms, he was supposed to have referred to international labour standards on the matter, probably referring to International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise.

If Convention 87 is the point of reference, the question that needs an answer is, why has the government not ratified it?

Having failed to ratify the convention, it would be appropriate to ask whether the amendments to the Trade Union Act are at least morally legitimate under the circumstances.

These amendments, without the government even bothering to ratify Convention 87, are but pandering to the economic interests of the business class, who undoubtedly stand to reap the benefits of the CPTPP and other trade agreements – at the expense of a fractured workers’ movement.

Given that it was the Barisan Nasional government that fragmented the trade union movement by denying workers the fundamental right to organise themselves in a union of their choice (the denial of a national union for the hundreds of thousands of electronic workers being a case in point), allowing for a further dispersion of existing organised labour would inevitably translate to castrating the workers’ movement.

In the grand scheme of proactive business class interests, this seems to be the underlying objective of the government – to divide the already divided!

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Our trade union movement cannot effort to be disfranchised. With less than 8% of labour organised, we need to consolidate whatever resources we have at our disposal to confront any attempts to further dilute the already fragile unionised sector, especially in the private sector. 

The trade union movement has to recognise that the amendments are primarily aimed at promoting the business interests of employers. Remember, these amendments were never intended to conform with Convention 87, as the government does not have the moral conviction to ratify the convention.

So these amendments are not aimed at conforming to fundamental ILO conventions but rather at creating divisions within the trade union movement so that the employers can leverage on the divided movement to enrich themselves. The devil is in the government’s narrative to suckle the demands of capital. That ought to be the focus of our agitation against these amendments.

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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K Veeriah, a longtime Aliran contributor, has been a trade union industrial relations officer, involved mainly in collective bargaining and handling trade disputes, since 1978. He has also served as secretary of the Penang division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress since 1991, after stints on the MTUC's national executive committee and general council
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