Thursday, February 17, 2011

Syed Shahir : Discontinue Threats and Action Against Charles Hector, Blogger and Human Rights Defender, for highlighting plight of workers.

Media Statement – 18/2/2011

Discontinue Threats and Action Against Charles Hector, Blogger and Human Rights Defender, for highlighting plight of workers.

The Union is appalled by the reaction of Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn.Bhd., a subsidiary of Asahi Kosei Japan Co. Ltd, in going after persons who highlighted the plight of Burmese migrant workers who work in the company’s factory. We call for the immediate withdrawal of the threat of a legal suit demanding RM10,000,000-00 from Mr. Charles Hector for highlighting worker rights and human rights violation that were happening to the said 31 workers.

In response to legitimate grievances raised by the said workers, which included non payment of wages as agreed, wrongful imposition of a ‘fine’ for absence from work, and unlawful deductions from wages, the response was to use threats on these workers, deprivation of electricity and other utensils at the living quarters of these workers, and the threat to terminate and even send them back to Burma.

Now, the company seem to be denying all allegations, even to the extend of saying that these are not their workers, and that these were not workers under the ‘direct payroll’ of Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd. They allege that all the affected workers were supplied by an outsourcing agent, and in short, they seem to say that they are not responsible for these workers or what happened to them.

It is our position that all workers working at any factory and/or workplace must be directly employed by the said company operating the said factory. It matters not how you got your workers, but the moment they do start working they become your workers, and the employer, in this case Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd., is fully responsible for these workers. The company should pay salary directly to the worker, and ensure that all workers working for them enjoy all rights, benefits and other entitlements due to workers under the employer-worker agreements, collective bargain agreements covering the said factory, and existing rights guaranteed under the Malaysian law to workers.

Workers working in a factory should also have the right to join the said factory’s in house union, and also regional/state/national unions covering the sector in which the factory operations come under.

It is very wrong, and certainly anti-worker anti-trade union if employers can shirk responsibilities justly owed by the said employer, by stating that these migrant workers were not under the direct payroll of the company, but under the employ of some other person and/or company.

Workers working at any particular factory should all be paid directly by the said company, and not through any other third party. All workers who work in a particular factory should be accorded equal treatment, and that includes equal pay for equal work, and also equal entitlement of rights.

The Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees equality, and even the Employment Act 1955, in section 60L, clearly promotes anti-discrimination of workers, and gives the right of all workers, whether local and/or foreign, the right to lodge complaints in the event of discrimination on the basis of nationality of the said worker.

The power that workers and trade unions have when it comes to dealing with their employers is worker action, which includes strikes, and if Malaysian government permits a new class of workers to be working at a workplace, who are workers of some other third party, then it just weakens the power of workers and/or their unions in demanding for better rights and benefits from their employers.

The Malaysian government tried to legalize the practice of using workers of some third parties at the workplace by the introduction of ‘contractors of labour’, through D.R.25/2010 Employment (Amendment) Bill 2010, that was tabled in Parliament in July 2010 but due to public pressure, this Bill was withdrawn.

Malaysian Trade Union Congress have also came out repeatedly against this practice of using workers of third parties, and has called for an immediate revocation of licences of all labour outsourcing companies. Since demands made by unions to the Malaysian government, has yet to bear fruit, maybe it is time for MTUC and other trade unions to take this obviously pro-employer government to court on this matter.

It may be alright for agents and companies to assist companies in identifying and providing workers for companies, but the moment the companies accept these workers, there must immediately be an employment agreement and relationship with all these workers directly and the said company. The workers thereafter are the workers of the said company, and the company shall be fully responsible for the recognition and protection of all worker rights.

Any good company that respects universally accepted human rights and worker rights will not resort to using workers of another at their factories, and will not shirk their responsibilities to their workers with claims that they are not their workers, and when there are allegations worker rights violations to try divert this responsibility to workers to some other third party.

The current action of Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn. Bhd., in attempting to go after human rights defenders, worker rights activists and advocates, in this case Mr Charles Hector, with threats of a legal suit is so wrong and against public interest. The intention here seems to be an attempt to silent concerned persons and organizations from highlighting worker rights and human rights violations in an effort to stop further violations, and ensure that justice is done.

Allegations of human rights worker rights violation should rightly be dealt with by companies through negotiations with workers and/or trade unions, using the available mechanisms that are available, and not by targeting those that highlight these violations be it bloggers, media agencies, civil society organizations or even individuals, who do have a moral obligation and duty to bring to public notice any perceived wrongdoing, human rights violations and worker rights violations.

We note also that this matter of rights violation at Asahi Kosei, is the subject matter of a Joint Media Statement, currently endorsed by about 80 civil society organizations.

We call for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of this threat of a legal suit and/or any legal action (if it has already been commenced) against Charles Hector.

We call on Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn. Bhd., to also take direct and full responsibility for all workers working in their factory, and not try to shift blame to some other third party. We hope that Asahi Kosei(M) Sdn. Bhd., do the needful, including reinstating the 2 migrant workers that have been stopped from working by reason of their refusal to sign a new ‘contract’ forced on them.

Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud

Executive Secretary of National Union of Transport Equipment & Allied Ind.Workers

(Former President of Malaysian Trades Union Congress- MTUC)

Syed Shahir can be contacted: Tel. 603- 55192421/55193860. Fax: 603-55106863

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