STIEU wins secret ballot despite SFI’s obstruction

30 October 2018 07:06

Members of the Sabah timber union are elated after yesterday’s decisive secret ballot election victory at Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) in Sipitang, Malaysia, clearing the way for them to begin collective bargaining.

The unofficial election result was 72.88 per cent for the Sabah Timber Employees Union (STIEU), with 680 of the 933 eligible workers voting for the union and only 6 voting for SFI.

“After nearly three decades of workers’ struggle this is a historic moment for us and the entire labour movement in Malaysia,” says STIEU Secretary-General Engrit Liaw. “It is phenomenal that STIEU members have been so consistently strong in their push to form a union, and this emphatic victory demonstrates the power of collective action.”

SFI has continuously obstructed trade union formation and yesterday was no exception. They refused to allow the election to take place on site, which is a violation of Malaysian law and only let workers leave during their lunch break. The secret ballot was held at a school adjacent to the premises. 

“SFI’s continuing obstruction of workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association is no great surprise; however it indicates the clear need for legal reform to redress the power imbalance that exists between workers and their employers,” said BWI Asia-Pacific Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. 

“Since the last election in which the Barisan Nasional was finally defeated, BWI’s Malaysian affiliates have been at the forefront of the discussion in reforming labour laws so other workers are not subjected to the same challenges as those at SFI,” Tolentino continued.

On three separate occasions, SFI has used lengthy and expensive judicial review procedures to prevent its workers from forming a union of their own choosing, consistently appealing each decision. In October 2017 SFI’s appeal to the Kota Kinabalu Federal Court was dismissed, however, the Court’s failure to provide a written copy of the decision was further used to prevent the secret ballot process from proceeding until the new Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran intervened.

BWI affiliates across the world have often expressed their solidarity with STIEU members during the protracted dispute with its management. “The struggle of workers at SFI has captured the imagination of so many other unions and this victory will serve as a powerful reminder of what can happen when workers unite together”, said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson.