KUALA LUMPUR: Electronics industry workers can rejoice this Labour Day because although the Government still rejects a national union for them, the registration of four regional unions is almost complete.
The Department of Trade Union Affairs has to date registered three regional Electronics Employees Unions in the peninsular - the Western Region on Dec 1, 2009 (covering Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak); Southern Region on March 11 (Johor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan); and Union Northern Region on March 31 (Penang, Kedah and Perlis).
The Eastern Region, which covers Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang was still in the process of registration, said the Western Region union general secretary Bruno Periera.
“This is the first time in the history of Malaysian workers that a union has been broken up into regions.
“It was the decision of the Cabinet on May 27 last year that only unions at regional level would be allowed, unlike the national unions for the other industries,” he said in a statement.
Periera said the first attempt to be unionised nationally failed when the authorities forbade the Electrical Industry Workers’ Union to accept electronics workers as members, saying they were in two different sectors.
An attempt in the 1980s to set up its own national union also failed because government policy then was for in-house unions in the electronics sector only.
Citing other failed attempts over the decades, he said there were around 12 registered in-house unions with about 12,000 members.
“The electronics industry has been in Malaysia for over 35 years and it has raked in millions of ringgit in profits, but there has been little improvement for the employees.
“There is a huge difference in salaries between the employees and the management.
“In fact, it can be said that there has been no real salary increase from the 1970s to now, with a base salary of between RM350 to RM700 for operators, with most of them earning RM450 a month.”
Bernama reported that this issue had been a thorn in the flesh for the government since the early 70s when electronic multinationals first began making Malaysia their base to produce electronic chips and products.
The workers, represented by MTUC had demonstrated, protested and complained to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) over the last 40 years on the country's refusal to allow workers in this sector to unionise.
"Internationally, at almost at every ILO conference, the Malaysian labour minister was criticised and queried about this issue, and locally at every workers meeting, this issue was hotly debated," veteran trade unionist and past MTUC president Datuk Zainal Rampak told Bernama. As a result, the Malaysian government had a hard time convincing the international and local workers movement of its efforts to protect workers.
As a compromise, the government allowed these workers to form in-house unions but this was not accepted because the workers were still being exploited, he said.
Moreover, only 12,000 to 15,000 workers were members of these in-house unions which translated to a mere 5% of the total workforce in the industry.
He added the classic case was a company called Harris Advanced Technology Sdn Bhd which changed its name six times thus disallowing the workers to form an in-house union.- Star, 1/5/2010, Electronics workers to get 4 regional unions soon