Workers at Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) are elated, after their almost two week-long picket has now resulted in all workers being paid their back wages this morning. Members of the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU) have endured baking tropical heat and have survived off donations and collective goodwill and solidarity, demonstrating to SFI that they will not back down.
“The STIEU struggle has reminded us of the critical importance of making a stand and fighting for our rights,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. He continued, “Their courage and resolve is a powerful example to workers across the world, and BWI affiliates – from Colombia to the Philippines, from Ukraine to India – have proudly shown their solidarity for the struggle of the workers at SFI.”
As well as unpaid wages, for decades now the STIEU has been battling to achieve union recognition. On three separate occasions the Government has demanded SFI recognise the union, and each time SFI have used judicial review proceedings to frustrate these attempts. Union recognition is required under Malaysian law before collective bargaining can take place.
“Without a collective agreement, our wages have barely moved in years. Any wage arrears immediately make our lives difficult.” said STIEU General Secretary Engrit Liaw. “It has been truly humbling to receive so much support from our fellow workers across the world, as well as the backing and confidence of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress.”
“Receiving this morning’s news that all workers have now been paid is like a gust of wind in our sails. We will now move on to the next stage of our struggle – towards trade union recognition!”
While this picket is now over, the members of STIEU are united in their demand for union recognition, and the picket has significantly strengthened their bargaining power. On 19 May SFI’s appeal will be heard in the Court of Appeal; in the mean time they are gearing themselves up to mount sustained pressure for their rights.
“SFI still has time to do the right thing and recognise the trade union. Our door is open. Let’s negotiate,” added Liaw.