It was in 1972, the prices of all goods, especially of consumer goods spiraled. As prices continued to rise, goods started disappearing from the counters.By June 1973, according to official statistics the rate of inflation was 15%. Malaysian Trade Union Congress’s (MTUC) survey revealed the rate at 25%. There were several other reasons that contributed towards this unprecedented inflation.The MTUC advised all its affiliates to submit their cost of living allowance (COLA) claim for 10% - 40% increase on a sliding scale. The employers Association, MECA, countered it by directing its affiliates to ignore any claim for COLA.The All Malayan Estates Staff Union (AMESU) on 24th July, 1973, submitted its claim for COLA to Malaysian Agriculture Produce Association (MAPA) at the rate of 30% of the basic salary. MAPA rejected it outright.But on 22nd November 1973, MAPA made an offer of SRA of RM25.00, RM15.00 and RM10.00 per month, based on grade. The Executive Council on 8th January, 1974, in its reply rejected the offer and served an ultimatum of 14 days to MAPA to settle the claim.After serving the ultimatum,AMESU had an understanding with Bro. P.P. Narayanan, the General Secretary of NUPW our sister union. NUPW promised that in the event of strike action by AMESU members, the NUPW members would not perform the duties of the staff.MAPA made a revised offer and directed all Estate Managers to pay the SRA to the staff. AMESU Headquarters countered it by directing its members not to accept the SRA.The MTUC then intervened and arranged a meeting with MAPA under the chairmanship of the Director General of Industrial Relations Department.But there was no settlement.In the meantime, secret ballots were issued to the members and the counting held on 17th March, 1974, disclosed that 96% voted in favour of the strike.Having voted for strike action by a vast majority of members, the Executive Council was in a strong position to bargain for a better deal.The Executive Council which met on 28th March 1974, proposed that the increment be made effective from 1st October 1973, and requested in addition RM30.00 and RM20.00 per month, based on salary scale, and that it should be offered to all members.
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This was a compromise on the part of the Union ,when compared to its original claim of 30% of the basic salary.The proposal did not materialize.The strike commenced on 1st April 1974. In the history of AMESU, the entire membership laid down their tools. The NUPW members ably assisted our members.They kept the promise in letter and spirit of understanding with them.Thus, AMESU created history in the trade movement in Malaysia when it went on strike and made an outright gain from RM20.00 per month to RM50.00 per month to the gain of members.
In the past, negotiation for terms and conditions were made impossible. The employers made it that way. Negotiation of terms and conditions of service is something that the plantation employer could never stomach: it was so in the 30’s and so in the 70’s. The wage cuts, unbearable living and working conditions and lack of jobs security are some of the factors that led to the formation of the Association which later became the Union .The plantation employers resented the idea of their employees forming associations or unions. When the employers were left with no choice but face the Federation of All Malayan Estates Staff Union, the Malaysian Plantation Industry of Employer Association (MPIEA) “initially used all their tactics to avert negotiation to negotiate with the staff Union . They argued that the staff are an integral part of the management. This resulted in the MPIEA unilaterally issuing a skeletal salary scheme.However, MPIEA in 1948 announced their arbitrary salary scheme and the union was resisted by the Union as best as it could. MPIEA was informed that the Union would “never accept to this arbitrary method”.MPIEA and its successor, Malayan Agriculture Producers Association (MAPA) have consistently followed a policy on non co-operation with the unions. MAPA had done their utmost best to delay negotiations and thus frustrate the members. But they could never avoid having negotiation with the staff Union .The first Collective Agreement between the Federation of All Malayan Estates Staff Union and MPIEA was signed on 26th February, 1951. The second agreement on cost of living allowance was signed on 22nd December, 1955. That was all between 1951 and 1958. Meanwhile, on 31st August 1956 the Federation became a union and registered as All Malayan Estates Staff Union (AMESU).AMESU then took the dispute on salary increase through the constitutional and legal procedure in trying to obtain a settlement of its claim with the employers. In August 1957, both the AMESU and MPIEA after the failure to negotiate the agreement was referred to the commissioner for Industrial Relations as a dispute, under the Industrial Courts Ordinance, 1948. In submitting to this process the union lost out.However, the 1951 agreement was replaced by the MPIEA / AMESU Agreement signed on 29th December 1958. This agreement was for a period of two years. The next three agreements were signed in 1962, 1965 & 1971. The 1971 Agreement was replaced by an Industrial Court Award No. 120/78 handed down by the Industrial Court after 4 years and 8 months struggle.Since 1948, every negotiation with MPIEA and its successor MAPA took several years to conclude an agreement. The agreements contained only those provisions relating to salary, qualification allowance, annual leave, bonus, hospital benefits, retrenchment benefits and fuel and water supply. No agreement can be move vague and ambiguous than those signed during the period 1951 to 1971.The plantation employers were responsible for the delay in the 1974 negotiation, charging the union for its unreasonable claims and the adamant attitude of the leadership. After 1993 the negotiation took on a new pattern in the interest of industrial harmony with a view of concluding Collective Agreements based on the economic facts of the Industry.
Once again, we celebrate an anniversary once in every 5 years when the union, by then, reaches certain level of development, service and its delivery system.On the development of union, our thought quickly focus on the number of members at present and what was five years ago. Certainly we have increased but still more work has to be done in the area of membership drive.On reflecting, membership drive has becomes the work of a professional person. We cannot leave to the regional committee to do because they find it hard to cope up with their pressing work in the estates or mills, leaving little or no time for membership drive.There are many employees still not in the fold. But they are working in isolated areas in the states where estates and mills are far from the town. Even to reach them may take few hours or a day!.The need to employ a full time worker who knows the geographical locations of estates or mills would be an advantage. He should have the gift of gap to persuade the employees to join the union for their own benefits, security and tenure of service. It is a specialist job and such a person is necessary for the union to undertake membership drive.Membership drive entails much greater responsibility in order to create awareness and secure complete organization of all employees in the plantation sector. The union has to educate them of their rights and responsibilities and to provide the necessary services, advice and assistance accordingly.The new member may have greater expectation and probably consider that union can do many things for them. It is here our service and the delivery system must be provided least they become disillusioned and disappointed with the union.Meeting of members will have to be convened frequently, imparting to them the union services, the relevant labour laws, their applications and effect on them.We have to inoculate our goals and objectives with them to strengthen their trust and achieve unity. Our approach is constant emphasis on unity within the membership and solidarity with other unions for our progress and assistance.AMESU is alert all the time protecting and serving members while they are in the employment and after retirement from Estates or Mills. The question of protecting arises when they have managers who are ignorant of employees’ rights entrenched in Collective Agreement or labour laws. The managers tend to exploit and apply bully tactics. It is here the union comes in to protect them. The union at all time is at the service of members, attending to the grievances and other employment issues which arises at their work places.But it must be stated clearly here that the union will not pursue if members involve in stealing or cheating or in any other illegal activities which are detrimental to the estate, mill or companies. Only union can protect the employees at their work place.Only union can bring about respect for each other, dignity in work place, able to regulate industrial harmony and establish better working environment in the interest of all.As a union we have the power to administer justice. Power to compel witnesses to come forward. Power to commit the employer to do justice or create proper working condition in the work place of members.
In the last decade of 20th century, society has changed tremendously and now in the first decade of the 21st century, the society has become mobile, globalized and fast paced. The interest in the union has affected, the present generation. The present generation or the missing generation has no knowledge or understanding of union as a tool for their own progress. Their disinterest has created a vacuum of young people in the trade union movement.The cause of the vacuum or missing generation of young people in the trade union movement lies in number of factors. The present life style is different. They work late, sleep late and there is hardly anytime left for union activities. Any spare time left is normally spent either before the TV or internet. They lack English proficiency because of their educational background.Many young and even adults live in virtual or cyber world, spending a lot of time there. This group of generation is missing in the union movement. They are only interested in what is happening around them, growing up much faster than what we experienced in our young days. Most of the young are increasingly multimedia oriented and easily adopted to multi tasking, keeping up with the changes in the technology field and practically not interested in social movement.This missing generation is also a consumer generation, buying what is best in the market, and of course, the best branded product with the latest modal or fashion or of an advanced technology.The present generation is more individualistic with modern undercurrents swirling around them, affecting their attitudes, behavior and they are inclined towards tolerance and acceptance of the living situation. But they are lost in their own globalized world of modern consumerism and easily put up with everything without questioning, without loyalty, without expressiveness and without any display of situation ethics.It is the responsibility of the unions to educate them up to the reality of the globalized industrial world and what they have to contribute in order to create orderly social society, caring for the community they live in. They must be made to understand that they should not live a selfish individual life but to join a union or form a union to cater for their needs in their place of employment. They can help to bring necessary changes for the benefit of environment and social progress for all. They must be made to realize that they have a role to play in trade union movement.This generation in other industries and firms are not union conscious and social minded adults. This young missing generation is not altogether lost. They need to be brought into the union fold and not left alone as individual non member.It is here the union and in particular MTUC make strategic infiltration to change their mind-set and reeducate and create awareness of what union can do for them. If MTUC can fulfill their role in the field of education and create awareness then union will multiply in our country.