Proposed amendments to Major Labour Laws Could Affect the Rights and Livelihood of Our Workers

May Day Message by the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng in Komtar, George Town on Saturday 1.5.2010

I would like to express concern over the federal government’s proposed amendments to Malaysia’s major labour laws that could affect the rights and livelihood of our workers.

The proposed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1967, Trade Union Act 1959 and Employment Act 1955 have been described by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) as the worst plan conceived against Malaysian workers.

According to MTUC, if the amendment to the Industrial Relations Act is approved, it could take away employees’ right to bring up any case of wrongful dismissal to the Industrial Court.

The proposal to amend the Trade Union Act would allow employers to question representation of trade unions every five years. This could lead to intimidation against trade unionism and the protection of workers in the country.

Under the proposal to amend the Employment Act, it is meant to allow employers to change employees’ working hours.

As Chief Minister of Penang, I understand the need to foster closer cooperation between employers and employers, as well as to cater to the needs of investors. But to achieve this, it must never be done at the expense of any party, in particular the workers.

Arresting brain drain

We know that brain drain is Malaysia’s serious problem that must be resolved if we are to become a high-income economy. We also know that this acute problem will only worsen if the government continues to treat our best and brightest with indifference.

We must focus on merit and higher productivity. This is equally as important in ensuring protection for our workers.

When the government is not serious in handling the issue, we have a bad situation where there are actually jobs available for those who possess high skills and knowledge but there is not enough supply of such local employees. Yet we have a serious problem of unemployment in “rich” states such as Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak.

In Sarawak, for example, despite its oil, gas and timber production, the state is still rife with problems, making poverty, displacement and unemployment among the major issues that have yet to be resolved despite many promises made by those in power.

Say no to GST

At the same time, it is also important for the government not to bring in additional burden to the economic well-being of Malaysian workers. In the proposal to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST), although the government had shelved its implementation, it never abolishes the plan.

When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in an interview with Bernama last month (April), was asked whether the government had caved in to political pressure, he replied in the negative, saying that the (implementation of) GST required a bit more time for the public to support and buy in.

This means, the government could at any time force the GST upon us, burdening the poor and the middle class. As we know, there are only 1.8 million individuals with an income of more than RM3,000 a month pay tax for their salary, and GST would force the entire 12 million to pay tax.

If the government is facing problem of raising funds, the solution is not to introduce new taxes. The government should instead focus on fighting corruption and putting a stop to wastages, which I believe we could save at least RM28 billion annually.

Selamat Hari Pekerja!

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