Malaysia: ILO Committee supports union against company's refusal to negotiate

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association ruled in favour of the Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) and its Malaysian affiliate, the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU), regarding a complaint that they filed in 2021 against the Sabah Forest Industries. The complaint accused the company of refusing to recognise the STIEU since 2009 despite winning in two secret ballot processes and obtaining two favourable decisions from the Minister of Human Resources (MOHR). The complaint also claimed that the company misled its migrant workers from Nepal and Indonesia so they wouldn't join the union, and interfered with STIEU’s recognition by considering to recognise a defunct union.

The ILO Committee took notice of the complaints that the corporation denied its workers their rights to organise and collectively bargain, which led to unreasonable delays in the union's official legal recognition as a bargaining agent. Additionally, it allegedly found flaws in a Malaysian law governing the recognition of unions. As a result, the Committee advised its Governing Body to urge Malaysia's government to avail itself of the ILO’s technical assistance in reviewing the legal framework governing the procedure for recognising trade unions for collective bargaining purposes in order to streamline and speed up administrative and judicial processes. 

Engrit Liaw, the General Secretary of the STIEU, expressed her appreciation for the committee's decision. She urged the Sabah Forest Industries to finally meet with the union, engage in collective bargaining, and pave the road for an atmosphere of industrial harmony within its operations. She also said that the  committee's report will support the ongoing advocacy efforts of the Labour Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of more than 59 trade union organisations, migrant and labor NGOs, women organisations, and human rights defenders to amend Malaysia's Trade Union Act to make it easier to recognise unions, to allow migrant workers to be elected as union officials, to allow domestic workers to form unions, and to encourage trade unionism. The Industrial Relations Act will also be further amended, and Section 9 of the law, which prohibits management, confidential, supervisory, and security staff from joining unions, will be repealed, according to Liaw.

BWI and STIEU vowed to pursue pending issues before the human resources ministry, particularly on the payment of workers' wages and reopening of the SFI business enterprise.