Malasia - Timber company continues to deny workers union recognition

Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) filed a judicial review on 14 May 2015 seeking to quash a ministerial order on the eligibility of its employees to vote in a secret ballot on whether they wanted to be represented by the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU). SFI workers had been battling for 24 years for union recognition, but had been thwarted at every turn by the company’s legal manoeuvres. Two previous attempts to file for recognition, in 2003 under the now defunct Sabah Forest Industries Employees Union and in 2010 as STIEU, had ended with SFI management successfully filing for judicial review. Yet STIEU’s 2010 secret ballot results following its claim for recognition revealed it had the support of 85.9 per cent of SFI workers.

Sadly a stark reminder of the need for a union to protect workers’ welfare came on 12 July 2015 when Yiki Janing, aged 51, died at the chip mill division at the SFI’s plant in Sipitang while operating machinery. SFI was accused of failing to install a fence on the conveyor machine, which caused the death of Mr. Yaning. In December 2015 the company was formally charged with failing to ensure its workers’ safety, health and welfare.

By the end of 2015 STIEU had still not achieved recognition. In the meantime, STIEU reported that SFI was trying to revive the defunct in-house union, and to urge some employees to file cases against STIEU leaders before the Trade Union Activities Department, in an effort to divide members and harass leaders.

Meanwhile, further to complaints filed by the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), the company is under investigation by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Compliance Advisory Ombudsman of the World Bank for its anti-union practices and failure to comply with ILO Conventions 87 and 98 as required in certification systems and Performance Standards.

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