Trade Unions: Strength or A Threat?

Trade Unions: Strength or A Threat? 1

When the term ‘trade union’ is mentioned to an employer in Malaysia, it’s normally perceived to be ‘trouble’ and is more often than not opposed within the management team. This however, is not the case in many other countries where the Union plays an important role in bridging the gap between business objectives and workers’ welfare.

Trade Unions: Strength or A Threat? 1The Industrial Relations Act 1967 contain provisions on union recognition, collective bargaining, picketing, strike, lock-outs and etc. In short, these provisions were put in place with the intention of maintaining a harmonious relationship between all parties at the workplace. With that in mind, one may wonder whether the current state of affairs in industrial relations provide a true reflection of the original intention?

In my dealings with employers and unions, I sense a disconnection (in most cases) in achieving business success when focus is placed on ‘gaining’. For example, union proposals upon the expiration of collective agreements tend to be an over the top proposal based on their perception of profitability of the Company, whereas the Company would prefer to measure individuals’ performance in determining rewards. When both parties negotiate hard and are adamant of their views, it would inevitably lead to a deadlock in negotiations, resulting in the Union bringing the employer to court.

At this point – are we achieving industrial harmony or are employees suffering as a result of an unnecessary trade dispute?

The role of Union leaders should be to understand business goals, challenges and the financial state of affairs of the Company – which in turn is translated to the employees. Employers with Unions should constantly engage and act on the welfare of employees – it is only through this that the relationship will prosper.

This table provides the basic guidelines for employers in an environment where the Unions are involved:

Trade Unions: Strength or A Threat?

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