KOTA KINABALU: The Federal Court on Tuesday dismissed the appeal of Sabah Forest Industries (SFI), which had attempted to further slow the union recognition process by judicially reviewing decisions taken by the Minister of Human Resources.
Indian-owned SFI have now exhausted their available appeals on this matter, and arrangements will soon begin for the secret ballot so workers can vote on union representation.
“The Federal Court has spoken clearly in the name of justice for Sabah’s timber workers, defending their right to freedom of association,” said Engrit Liaw, Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU) General Secretary.
“At this stage SFI has no legal justification for continuing to deny the rights of its workers to form a union and begin bargaining collectively.
“We are appealing to SFI’s parent companies – BILT and the Avantha Group – to say enough is enough. It is time they stepped in to direct SFI to recognise the union and get on with forging harmonious industrial relations.”
This is STIEU’s latest victory in their long-running path to union recognition, especially since the Minister of Human Resources had previously directed SFI to recognise the union.
This victory is the latest in a long-string of legal victories, following a similar victory in May 2017 at the Sabah Court of Appeal.
SFI have also been stripped of both their FSC timber certification (the first time a company has had its certificate removed on labour rights issues) and their PEFC timber certification.
They are currently being investigated by the compliance watchdog of the World Bank’s private finance arm (the International Finance Corporation, IFC), regarding whether IFC adequately discharged their due diligence duties in light of the the freedom of association issues.
Met outside the court after the fabulous win, Engrit said: “This case should also serve as a wake-up call for Putrajaya that Malaysia’s industrial relations framework needs to be brought into the twenty-first century.
“The threshold required for union recognition remains exceptionally high, and there are myriad options available for litigious employers to drag out the process indefinitely.”
In a statement, STIEU said it believes that Malaysia’s industrial relations framework needs an overhaul to bring it in line with international standards.
While SFI have appealed their legal options on this particular issue, once the secret ballot proceeds and the Minister demands SFI recognize the union, they are still able to demand a judicial review into this Ministerial decision.
“Unless the rules are changed then the powerful will continue to use the courts to prevent the powerless from exercising their rights to freedom of association”, said Apolinar Tolentino the BWI Regional Representative.
“The current rules reinforce the existing power dynamic, keeping wages low and preventing meaningful collective action on health and safety. It is time for a change to ensure workers’ rights are not illusory, and workers can collectively bargain to improve their living and working conditions.”