Don’t legalize discrimination at work place

Civil rights groups here and overseas want the Malaysian government to withdraw ‘unjust’ amendments to the Employment Act 1955

(Free Malaysia Today) – More than a 100 civil society groups locally and abroad have called for the government to withdraw ‘unjust’ amendments to the Employment Act 1955,  ahead of a nationwide Malaysian Trade Union Congress(MTUC) picket on the same issue next week.

In a joint press statement 107 civil society groups expressed concern over the government’s actions to “speedily” table and passed the the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2011 on Oct 6 at the Dewan Rakyat, despite protests from various groups against it.

“The proposed changes to the Employment Act would be most detrimental to worker rights, trade unions and the existing just direct two-party employment relationship between worker and end-user (the principal),” said the group, which included the International Trade Union
Confederation (ITUC), representing 175 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 308 national affiliates.

A spokesman for the group Charles Hector said: “Malaysia’s action goes contrary to justice.

“In many countries employers have been wrongly trying to avoid/disguise employment relationships by way of contracts/agreements and triangular relationships, and Malaysia rather than fighting against this negative trend is now trying to legalize it, hence showing itself to be anti-worker anti-unions.”

The groups noted that the amendments went against the Federal Constitution, which guaranteed equality of persons, as it would result in “discrimination at the workplace”.

“Workers doing the same work at the factory, would be treated differently in terms of wages, work benefits and even rights by reason of the fact that their employers are different,” said the statement.

The statement stressed that workers in the same workplace should be treated equality— in terms of wages, work benefits, rights, union rights, and so on.

‘Destroying’ ties

The civil groups also said the proposed amendments would also “destroy” direct employment relationships between owner-operator of workplaces.

“A just employment relationship dictates that all workers should be employees of the owner-operator employer not some other third party labour supplier, whether they be known as ‘contractor for labour’, outsourcing agent or by any other name.”

It stressed that such a “relationship” must be a direct relationship, and should exclude all third parties.

“The availability of short-term employment contracts is another reason why there is no need to legalize triangular or other employment relationships in Malaysia through the creation of the ‘contractor for labour’ (system),” it added.

If the amendments become law, then workers would also lose their rights to form or be members of the trade union at the workplace.

This will subsequently affect their right  to directly and effectively negotiate with the principal  who effectively controls the work place, working conditions and benefits.

‘Union busting’ policy

This would also weaken existing workers and unions, by reducing their negotiating power, and in turn make workers’ struggle better rights  wll become “almost impossible”.

“This proposed amendment is a ‘union busting’ exercises and allows employers to utilize ‘divide and rule’ tactics to counter legitimate demands of their workers and avoid employer obligations and responsibilities,” said the groups.

The groups also said the amendments further made unjustifiable changes to delay in overtime payment and work on rest days, as well as issues regarding sexual harrassment.

“With regard to sexual harassment, the new provision provides only for inquiry by an employer even when the alleged perpetrator is a member of the management, a partner, shareholder and/or director of the employer’s business, and provides no clear right of appeal to the
Labour Courts or the High Court.”

“Remedy for the victim of sexual harassment is also absent, save maybe the right to resign without the need to give the required notice when the perpetrator is a sole proprietor.”