May 5, 2016

Are unions still relevant in 21st century?

Are unions still relevant in 21st century?


INSTEAD of claiming that union busting has become a very serious problem in Malaysia and that some employers have regarded unions as their sworn enemy, “Union busting a very serious problem now, says MTUC” (The Star, April 30), the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) should try to understand why employers are not welcoming unions with open arms.

In dealing with the typical situation of supply and demand, employers know that to attract and retain workers, the salaries and conditions of service, like benefits, must be competitive.

This would depend on the ability and capability of employers and taking into consideration whether the company can sustain its business and also give its owners a fair return on the investment.

Still, by virtue of the Industrial Relations Act, unions can claim for recognition from employers to represent the workers. So, having done its best to give competitive salaries and conditions of service to its workers, it would be natural for most employers to resist any claim of recognition by unions, especially when the employer is confident that the majority of its workers are not union members.

However, the Industrial Relations Act also allows the union to report to the director-general of Industrial Relations in the event that recognition is not accorded. The law gives the director-general power to ascertain by way of a secret ballot the percentage of workers who are members of the union and then for the Human Resources Minister to decide whether recognition is to be accorded or not.

A few years ago, a recognition claim was made by the national union on a large private hospital with more than 1,000 workers. As the hospital is a known leader in providing competitive salaries and conditions of service, the recognition was not accorded to the union.

As provided by the Industrial Relations Act, a secret ballot was conducted with the end result that less than 10% of the workers were union members. Has the said union taken advantage of the Industrial Relations Act by simply claiming for recognition?

I’ve had my share of experience on the issue of recognition claim by unions. While I stand corrected, it seems to me that large companies tend to be the target of unionisation, even though these companies usually tend to be more competitive in salaries and conditions of service.

Can it be assumed that larger companies with more workers translate to the potential of more subscriptions to be collected?

With the various laws relating to employment that stipulate the minimum conditions of service and workers protection, are unions still relevant in the 21st century ?

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