N Gopal Kishnam urges the government to reverse or restrict the move by highway operators to replace human workers with automated toll booths.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) is disappointed with the loss of jobs for workers at toll booths, by reason of automation or the electronic toll collection (ETC) system.
Many local workers, especially women workers, have lost their jobs as a result of this move by highway toll operators. The Malaysian government has failed to protect the employment of workers, when these companies choose to do away with human workers in favor of automation.
Many local workers prefer to be with and stay with their families in their hometowns, especially women workers, and jobs as toll operators at nearby toll booth were a real option for many of these workers, especially those living in smaller towns and rural areas.
In the past, many local workers were willing to migrate to larger towns for work. But due to low wages, the increased cost of living and a poor quality of life, many workers have moved back to their smaller hometowns and rural communities.
Working at toll booths was a real option for many of these workers, and the government should have done what was needed to ensure that these employment opportunities were preserved.
It must also be noted that despite the existence of Smart card and Touch ‘n Go lanes at toll booths, a large number of people still used the cash payment lanes. These cash lanes were also used by taxis and other vehicles that were charged different rates compared to the rates for normal users. Many employers still insist on receipts before reimbursement for travel is paid to workers.
Prepaid cards only benefit one travel card company, Touch ‘n Go. Many low-wage workers, whose regular income is also uncertain due to an unchecked increase in precarious employment in Malaysia and a rise in the loss of regular employment, prefer the ‘pay as you use’ method.
This gives workers real access and control over money in hand. They prefer not to pay in advance money that is effectively stuck and irretrievable in Touch ‘n Go cards.
This preference can also be seen among the many who still avoid regular auto-payment methods, preferring rather to make cash payments when the bill arrives. Likewise, the preference to use prepaid, rather than being obligated to pay higher fixed rates, for their telephony needs – as many a time, they upload small amounts, especially when money is tight.
Only about 4.5 per cent of workers in the private sector in Malaysia are unionised. With the rise in precarious employment practices, including the use of short-term contracts and the use of workers from third parties at the workplace, freedom of association (in unions) is becoming a right that exists but effectively difficult to claim and benefit from, for many workers in Malaysia.
The existing restrictions in law now only allow trade unions, especially national and regional trade unions, for workers ‘within any similar trades, occupations or industries. This is no more practical or just.
The time has come to liberalise these strict requirements, enabling the formation and registration of trade unions of workers in the private sector within particular geographical areas irrespective of what sector, trade or industry they work for. This will also enable workers with employers with a smaller workforce to finally enjoy freedom of association and become members of trade unions.
Currently, national and regional trade unions’ attempts to organise and represent workers in a particular workplace are often defeated by employers, who argue that their employees do not fall within the scope of a particular union. The time may have come to liberalise this in favour of allowing workers the full right of freedom of association. If workers choose a particular union to represent them, that choice must be respected and not be defeated by existing law.
The Malaysian government needs to ensure that employment opportunities are not lost to automation or in other ways, especially where it concerns local workers, more so in town and rural areas.
The MTUC urges the government to reverse or restrict the current move by highway operators to replace human workers in favor of automation.
N Gopal Kishnam is secretary general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.