MALAYSIA: Intervention needed to dethrone the Judicial Review King

Trade unions and labour organisations are appealing to the Malaysian Government to protect workers from litigious employers determined to prevent union recognition and frustrate the collective bargaining process, union leaders stated at a press conference today in Subang Jaya. 

The Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU) have labelled Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) the ‘Judicial Review King’ because the company has consistently used judicial review proceedings to deny union recognition. In March last year the Minister of Human Resources issued an Order on the scope of representation for a secret ballot vote, an order that SFI submitted to judicial review proceedings in a blatant attempt to delay the union recognition process. 

This was the third time SFI have used judicial review proceedings to undermine union recognition and escape collective bargaining. Despite the Sabah High Court’s dismissal of the judicial review, SFI filed their appeal to that decision on 22 July. Without some kind of intervention, STIEU fear they may be locked in this cycle indefinitely. 

“How can it be that one company can wilfully avoid collective bargaining for over a quarter of a century with no legal repercussions”, asked Engrit Liaw, STIEU Secretary. “It is time that the Malaysian Government took a more active role in facilitating our right to bargain collectively, both through tripartite discussions alongside the company and the union, and long-term through legislative changes to dethrone the ‘Judicial Review King’.” 

MTUC Secretary-General N. Gopal Kishnam suggested that now is an ideal time for the Malaysian Government to consider broader labour reforms that more effectively protect workers’ rights. “Alongside the TPPA, Malaysia has negotiated a bilateral Labour Consistency Plan with the United States that require a series of quite significant legal changes to Malaysian labour law to bring it in line with the ILO Core Conventions. With such significant changes already underway, the Malaysian Government should be also looking at practical impediments to enabling the right to collective bargaining.” 

Kishnam continued, “We have been working at the ILO-level to try and encourage movement on these issues, and the case of STIEU has already been presented at the International Labour Conference as a practical example of where more can be done. It’s time the Malaysian Government played their part.” 

BWI Asia-Pacific Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino argued that, “[t]he recent decision from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the largest forest certification bodies in the world, to disassociate SFI and their parent company BILT will have a flow-on effect for the Malaysian timber industry”. 

“This is the timber industry’s equivalent of ratings downgrade in the banking industry. The Malaysian Government should be as concerned about getting this right as they are about concluding regional trade agreements, because in terms of global timber markets certification mechanisms act as market access tools to wealthier consumers in the Global North. If the logo’s not there, the big brands won’t touch it.” 

It was also noted that SFI is currently being investigated by the ombudsman of the World Bank’s investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which has invested US$250 million between SFI and it’s parent company BILT.