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Malaysian Airlines Must Respect Trade Union and Worker RightsWilliam Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com
MAS had failed to observe international labour and human rights standards. Cease Anti-Union activities against NUFAM and its members
(Washington, D.C) - We, the 54 undersigned civil society groups, trade unions and organizations are disturbed by the news that Malaysian Airlines (MAS), a government linked company, continues to violate worker and trade union rights. Recently, MAS commenced disciplinary action against Mohd Akram bin Osman, the Secretary General of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (NUFAM), and 30 other NUFAM members. The show cause letter dated on or about 14/2/2014 asked why disciplinary action should not be taken against them by reason of their participation in an ‘illegal’ gathering on 27/11/2013 at the Ministry of Human Resources in Putrajaya.
On 17/2/2014, Mohd Akram received yet another show cause letter with new allegation, and he has been suspended with half pay.
The National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (NUFAM) is a registered trade union, and it had sought recognition from Malaysian Airlines, the employer of some of its members. Recognition is a legal requirement in Malaysia before an employer can be compelled to sit down, negotiate and agree to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). When MAS rejected the application, the Director General of Industrial Relations (DGIR) conducted a secret ballot which involved all qualified employees, and NUFAM succeeded in getting 62.73% of the votes, and thereafter on August 2013, the DGIR issued the formal letter acknowledging NUFAM as a recognized union. It must be noted that in Malaysian law, MAS, as employer, would have had to agree on the list of qualified employees entitled to vote before the secret ballot, and as such challenging the result and the subsequent recognition of the Union is bad.
Sadly, on 4/10/2013, MAS challenged the decision of the Minister to accord recognition to NUFAM, and filed a Judicial Review application in the High Court. MAS also allegedly applied for an interim stay order thus depriving NUFAM the ability to move forward towards a CBA.
On 29/11/2013 MAS wrongly terminated Ismail Nasaruddin, the President of NUFAM, without even having a Domestic Inquiry, hence denying him the right to be heard and a fair hearing. Ismail was first suspended and then terminated allegedly by reason of a statement he issued in his capacity as President of NUFAM, which appeared in the media, which amongst others stated:- ‘…NUFAM Secretariat said it is calling on the prime minister to review Jauhari's contract and remove him as the CEO of MAS, which is a government appointed position, unhappy that there has been no changes in resolving the cabin crew's problems…’ It also raised other worker issues (The Sun Daily, 8/11/2013, NUFAM calls for resignation of MAS' CEO). MAS send him a show cause letter on 8/11/2013, which also immediately suspended him. Thereafter, Ismail received another letter terminating him on 29/11/2013. According to a Malaysiakini report, it is alleged that MAS said Ismail had acted in contradiction with his duties as a chief steward of the airline by issuing the statement.(Malaysiakini, 14/11/2011, MAS suspends chief steward for criticising CEO). This is absurd as the statement was issued in the capacity of a Union President, not a mere employee whereby even an ordinary employee should never be denied his freedom of opinion or expression.
In response, 43 civil society groups and trade unions, including the International Trade Union Confederation(ITUC), issued a Joint Statement on 3/12/2013, entitled, “MAS Must Immediately Revoke Suspension of Union President Ismail Nasaruddin Worker Right Issue Should Be Resolved By Negotiations Not ‘Union Busting’.
Then, in December 2013, disciplinary action was taken by MAS against about 10 NUFAM members allegedly based on comments made by them in their NUFAM Facebook Group. They were all suspended, but thankfully the disciplinary action seem to have been discontinued against 9. However, one Flight Attendant Ms Farahtina Kassim is still suspended from her flying duties since 8th December 2013 and even though she is now receiving full wages, she is being deprived of her flying allowance which constitutes a substantial sum of her ordinary take-home income.\
Now in February 2014, the show cause letter is against some 30 employees. The most recent allegation of participation in an ‘illegal gathering’ at the Human Resource Ministry is absurd given the reason that it a fundamental right for workers and/or their unions to file complaints and make representation to the government, including the Human Resource Minister. There has also been no known report or actions taken by the police or relevant authorities that indicated that any ‘illegal gathering’ even took place on 27/11/2013 at the Ministry. In any event, even if workers went to the Ministry not during their working hours, MAS certainly cannot make this a worker misconduct. Being convicted of serious crimes may be a basis for commencement of misconduct, but here there seem to have been no arrest, investigation or even prosecution at all. One also wonders whether there is ‘mala fide’ on the part of MAS to suddenly in February 2014 to issue show cause letter with regard to things that happened in November last year.
On or about 14 February 2014, Ms Farahtina Kassim and 3 others were terminated.
It is suspected that the timing of these recent actions by MAS may have been because the MAS’s judicial review at the High Court challenging of the recognition accorded Minister to NUFAM was fixed for 18/2/2014, which now has been adjourned to 27/3/2014.
Taking into consideration all these actions of MAS, it is difficult not to come to the perception that MAS is on a ‘union-busting’ mission, which also includes persecution of Union leadership and those active in NUFAM.
Malaysia, being a member of the international community, must also act in accordance with International Standards including Ruggie’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework , whereby in cases of government-linked companies like MAS, the obligation is even greater. The Guiding Principles do state that “States should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State, or that receive substantial support and services from State...”.
No worker, group of workers or unions should be barred from making public statements to the media or otherwise in the struggle for worker rights and human rights. This right is clearly acknowledged in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, commonly known today as the UN Human Rights Defender Declaration.
We call on Malaysian Airlines to immediately cease all ‘union busting’ activities including the commencement and continuation of disciplinary actions against members and potential members of NUFAM.
We call on MAS to immediately discontinue the High Court action challenging the recognition of NUFAM, and to immediately sit down and work towards a Collective Bargaining Agreement with NUFAM.
We call again on MAS to immediately and unconditionally reinstate Ismail Nasaruddin, the president of the Union, Ms Farahtina Kassim and the 3 other flight attendants that have been terminated.
We call on MAS to recognize and respect worker rights including the freedom of association and the right of qualified employees to join the Union.
We call on the Malaysian government, being also a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and also having substantial influence in MAS, a government linked company, to ensure that worker rights and union rights are respected by MAS.
We call on Malaysia to immediately amend or repeal all laws that hinder or delay the speedy formation of trade unions and entry into Collective Bargaining Agreement with employers.
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