The Future of the Trade Union Movement in Malaysia

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THE FUTURE OF THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT IN MALAYSIA Nagiah Ramasamy Universiti Putra Malaysia Abstract

Globalisation cannot be resisted and it is here to stay. It is an economic reality and threatens the very existence of trade unionism in many countries. With globalisation come various challenges to trade unionism. This paper examines the changing environment, discusses the challenges confronting the labour movement and argues that to face the challenges ahead, leadership plays a critical role. There is a need to focus on organising the unorganised and reach out to the new generation of workers, the e-generation. Delivery of services to members is another key issue. Trade unions need to also reinvent themselves as e-organisations to survive and prosper.

1. Introduction The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of trade union development in the recent past, examine the current state of affairs and prospects for trade unionism in the future, in Malaysia. This paper examines the changing business environment and the challenges confronting the labour movement. The role of trade unionism in Malaysia is that of state-employer dominated model (Kuruvilla and Venkataratnam, 1996), which could explain the low trade union density, low trade union participation and related problems such as union formation, union recognition, union influence and union busting. This paper does not purport to answer all questions. It poses a number of questions and offers some suggestions on how the future of trade unions may be shaped. 2. Globalisation Verzola (1998) suggests that there are there periods or waves of globalization. The first wave being the period of colonialism, and followed by the post-colonial wave called the second wave of globalization. Industrial countries and global corporations would range across the globe for investment areas, industrial markets, trading partners, and sources of cheap labor and raw materials. The post-colonial powers were industrial countries in their late stages, when capitalism had developed further, combining industrial and finance capital into huge monopolistic conglomerates in continual search for new acquisitions, sources of cheap raw materials and labor, and markets. The third wave of globalization, suggests Verzola, has emerged and began to be felt worldwide in the last half of the 1990's and will probably express its overwhelming presence in full force at the dawn of the 21st century. This looming third wave is the global information economy. It is marked by the emergence and eventual dominance, within the most advanced industrial countries, of the information sector - the sector that produces, manipulates, processes, distributes and markets information products. Trade unions oppose flexibility and globalisation yet it is workers with their legitimate demands for the cheapest possible food, cars, other products and holidays who are the driving force of globalisation.

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In the new economic environment, employers strive to maintain flexibility in production and employment and resist the promises of job security, seniority and benefits that employers used to employ to bind employees to the job (Dau-Schmidt, 2007:12). 3. Decline in trade unionism The decline in density can be attributed to a number of reasons: the inability of trade unions to organise new establishments. It can be attributed in part to lowered worker interest and stiffened management opposition to unionism, unfavourable changes in the political and legal environment for collective bargaining and by management actions such as creating additional pseudomanagerial posts. It can be argued that much of the decline in Malaysian trade union density is also due to increased management resistance to new unionism and reduced worker interest in unions, induced by a tougher economic environment abetted by a more pro-employer legal environment. Trade unions all over the world are under attack by the very forces, drivers and consequences...
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