Generally, employers and employees both have the right to form and join their own unions to safeguard their interests and must satisfy the conditions within any particular establishment, trade, occupation or industry. Membership of union is limited geographically. For instance, employees or employers in Peninsular Malaysia shall only join a union all of whose members based in the Peninsular whereas employees or employers in Sabah or Sarawak shall only be members of union established in Sabah or Sarawak.
The main objectives of trade unions are as follows:
i. Regulation of relations between workmen and employers for the purpose of promoting good industrial relations between workmen and employers, improving working conditions or enhancing their economic and social status or increasing productivity;
ii. Regulation of relations between workmen and workmen or between employers and employers;
iii. Representation of either workmen or employers in trade disputes;
iv. Conducting of, or dealing with, trade disputes and matters relating thereto; or
v. Promotion or organisation or financing of strikes or lockouts in any trade or industry or the provision of pay or other benefits for its members during a strike or lockout
Policies and guidelines for the formations, functions obligations and activities of trade unions are generally featured in the Trade Unions Act 1959 and Trade Unions Regulations 1959 which come under the purview of the Trade Unions Affairs Department, Ministry of Human Resources.
Industrial Relations Act 1967
The Industrial Relations system in Malaysia operates within the legal framework of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177). The Act is enforced by the Department of Industrial Relations, Malaysia (DIRM) and it regulates the relations between employers and their workmen’ and their trade unions in the country. The Act, among others, outlines the following:
i. Provisions outlining the process relating to claims for recognition and scope of representation of trade unions;
ii. Provisions relating to the facilitation of effective collective bargaining between the trade union and the employer and subsequent conclusion of a collective agreement;
iii. Provisions relating to prevention and settlement of trade disputes including referral to the Minister of Human Resources and Industrial Court for a decision;
iv. Provisions relating to industrial action such as pickets, strikes and lockouts;
v. Provisions relating to the representations for claims for reinstatement by workmen;
vi. Provisions relating to the operation of the Industrial Court; and
vii. Provisions relating to the investigative powers of the officers of the Department of Industrial Relations, Malaysia.
In addition, DIRM also provides advisory services on all issues and questions relating to employment relations vide its branch offices located throughout the country.
Relations in Non-Unionised Establishments
In a non-unionised establishment, the normal practice for settling disputes is for the employee to try to obtain redress from his supervisor, foreman or employer directly. An employee can also lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources which will then conduct an investigation.