Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
The Kota Kinabalu High Court today set June 26 to hear the judicial review application filed by Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) against an order by the Human Resources Ministry to recognise the Sabah Timber Industries Employees Union (STIEU).
This was conveyed to STIEU by their solicitor DB Aludah.
At yesterday’s press conference held by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sabah division, the division’s chairperson Awang Ali said, “This judicial review application is disappointing as STIEU had won the secret ballot elections; yet the employer, dissatisfied with the results, brought the case to court even though the human resources minister had ordered the employer to recognise the union.”
Awang was referring to STIEU’s 2010 secret ballot results following its third claim for recognition, which revealed it had the support of 85.9 percent of SFI workers.
MTUC Sabah secretary Catherine jikunan asked, “Why is SFI so afraid of the union? Isn’t STIEU a legal entity, registered? What is its problem that it has refused to recognise the workers’ choice of union for 23 years?”
SFI workers first established an in-house union, Sabah Forest Industries Employees Union, in 1992, which was dissolved in 2009 following a decision to join STIEU. Both unions were not recognised by the management, which has to date filed three judicial review applications to the detriment of the workers’ right to unionise.
SFI filed its first judicial review application in 2006, questioning the ministry’s competency assessment of membership as the list included workers who are disallowed by law to join unions. It filed a second judicial review application in 2011 over a similar complaint following the 2010 secret ballot results that showed overwhelming support for STIEU.
STIEU president Martin Kandong, who was also at yesterday’s press conference in Kota Kinablu, said, “SFI is the first and biggest paper and pulp manufacturer in Malaysia. Yet this company does not respect the laws of Malaysia, to the point of challenging the human resources minister, dragging his office to court thrice.”
He added, “I think it’s rare that the minister is thus challenged, three times in a row! I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country but this is happening in Sabah. And this company is owned by a giant company based in Ballapur, India. The previous owner, local-based Lion Group, also did not respect the country’s laws.
STIEU general-secretary Engrit Liaw pointed out that SFI’s current parent company, BILT, has been inconsistent in facilitating the unionisation of its workers, with workers in its India subsidiaries having no problems exercising these rights.
Also present at the press conference were SFI-STIEU chairperson Murin Lapat, STIEU exco member Selfanus Joseph, and MTUC Sabah vice-chairperson Margaret Chin and treasurer Alice Kong.
CATHERINE JIKUNAN is secretary, Sabah division of MTUC.
Address: Wisma MTUC,10-5, Jalan USJ 9/5T, 47620 Subang Jaya,Selangor | Tel: 03-80242953 | Fax: 03-80243225 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org