Friday, October 07, 2011

PR, why turned you back against the workers?

Thank God that the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2011 was passed by Parliament last night. It took five hours to debate before the bill finally being passed.

This law is a good law. Apart giving female workers more rights, streamlining payment of salary through bank account etc, it also protects contract workers (in millions especially in plantations) from abuses by their immediate bosses ie the company bosses who supply the workers to plantations, factories and construction projects.

The government has received countless complaints from the workers. They are not being paid, retrenched unnecessarily and their EPF and SOCSO not remitted.

In short they are being subjected to slavery like condition at their work place. The sad part is, at the moment, the government finds it difficult to pin down these bosses due to lack of law. The original law stipulated that only the owner of the plantation, factory or construction project could be held responsible. But in most cases, the owner claimed that they had paid the money to the company bosses who supplied the workers. When approached by the authority, these bosses in turn prefer to claim ignorance or worse abscond.

This law intends to stop all these nonsense by making it mandatory for the labour supplier to be formally registered and subjected to strict observation and legal prosecution if they flaunt the law. It has the support of the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), which welcome protection against abuses towards workers.

The opposition opposed this bill because they were concerned that the law would legitmize contract workers system of employment. They said it would encourage the companies to do away with permanent workers and replace them with contract workers. They claimed that contract workers business would flourished and more abuses would follow.

I am dissapointed with this argument. In the first place, there are enough provisions in the bill and in other Acts to prevent permanent workers replaced by contract workers. Moreover this law is not about whether contract workers system is bad or not. That debate could be done some other time and on different platform.

In fact, whether the opposition like it or not, the much hated contract workers system is here to stay and has become a crucial part of employment especially in the plantations. The ILO has conceded this as a fact. Thus, since it is here to stay, the need for better protection for the workers is paramount.

The opposition had two choices. Either oppose this law because of their belief that it would encourage contract workers employment or support it so that the contract workers could be protected from decades of abuses, maltreatment, injustice and exploitation.

In the end, as expected, the opposition shamelessly chose to give priority to their misplaced misconception.

As for the BN MPs, the choice was abundantly clear. We chose to be with the workers who have suffered, humiliated and treated like slaves by unscrupulous, conscienceless and irresponsible bosses. The time to protect the workers is now and I am happy to see BN MPs have shown their commitment.

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