Malasia - Proposed legislative changes will weaken unions

The Secretary General of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) N. Gopal Kishnam warned that the legislative changes proposed under the “11th Malaysia Plan” announced in June 2015 would weaken industrial workers’ ability to collectively bargain with their employers.

The text of the 11th Plan states that amendments will be made to the Employment Act 1955, Trades Union Act 1959 and Industrial Relations Act 1967. Those amendments would “address the rigidity of existing dismissal processes” and “increase flexibility in working hours and registration of trade union membership”.

The Human Resources Ministry, tasked with amending the laws, had not yet announced what these specific amendments would be, but the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) set out its proposals for what they should contain.

The MTUC expressed concern about several of the MEF’s proposals, especially on the reclassification of dismissals. In the case of in so-called voluntary separation schemes (VSS), for example, workers have to choose between two unpalatable options. Gopal cited a case where workers at a factory were given two choices: either sign up to a new employment agreement where they will no longer be union members or take the company’s VSS. “Staying on with the company is even worse because there will be no union to protect their interests and their welfare will not be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.”.

The MTUC suspects that companies are resorting to more and more coercive VSS and Mutual Separation Schemes (MSS) in order to shed workers or bring down salary costs. “Unlike a retrenchment scheme, you don’t have to inform and justify your reasons to the ministry with a VSS and MSS scheme.” “The end result with such practices is that more and more workers are forced to give up their rights to unionise”, said Gopal. “It’s union-busting.”

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