MTUC and trade unions should be in the forefront of IT revolution by launching a "IT For All Workers" programme for the eight million workers in the country


Speech - Labour Day Conference
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): The MTUC and trade unions in the country should be in the forefront of the Information Technology revolution by launching a "IT For All Workers" programme for the eight million workers in the country.

In countries all over the world which are making the transition from the industrial-based economy to an information-based economy, there is the rise of knowledge workers.

Trade unions must guard against the widening opportunity gap in our economy between low-paid occupational and blue-collar workers on the one hand and upwardly mobile knowledge workers on the other and ensure that there is no growing chasm separating old work from new work, the old economy from the new economy

One way is for the MTUC and trade unions in the country to launch programmes to upgrade the knowledge and skills of workers by focussing on computers and the culture of life-long learning so that workers who are now computer illiterate can also acquire computer literacy and fluency.

I am surprised that the MTUC and trade unions still have no IT programmes to ensure that workers are not left behind in the national race to the Information Age by preparing and empowering workers of all ages and backgrounds to face the challenges of the 21st century.

If Malaysia is to succeed in making the quantum leap into the Information Age, it is not enough to attract international IT/multimedia companies to invest in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), we must also ensure that the IT-fluency of the Malaysian workforce is comparable to those of other developed countries.

In other words, we must pay attention not only to hardware and software, but also to "humanware", as information technology cannot exist without humans making use of it.

In an information-based society, new social organisations, structures and relationships will replace the old ones. MTUC and trade unions should take the lead to shape this new social landscape, as for instance, in creating a new compact between employers and employees where employees have responsibility for making their companies as profitable as possible, and companies have responsibility for making their employees as valuable as possible.

Companies should have a responsibility to help employees unlock whatever potential they have for adding value, not only by providing training opportunities but also by making jobs as challenging as possible and devolving responsibility onto employees.

The three papers in today’s conference are Ratification of ILO Conventions into local legislations and its effect upon trade unions by R. Rajagopal; The competency of Industrial Relations Officers and Union representatives in defending workers at the Industrial Court by P. Kuppusamy and The Reality in seeking Minimum Wage for Plantation Workers by A. Sivanesan.

All three subjects are an important part of the larger labour struggle to improve the wellbeing of workers in the country.

The MTUC and trade unions must redouble their efforts to create a worker-friendly system of governance in Malaysia. There is the fallacy that a worker-friendly government must be employer-unfriendly.

This is an outmoded concept incompatible with the "win-win" approach for labour policies which benefit both employers and employees as well as the nation as a whole.

A worker-friendly system of governance must comprise the following elements:

I understand that last Thursday, the MTUC Working Committee took a decision not to participate in today’s Conference because it is organised by the DAP Labour Bureau.

This is putting the clock back and I am most surprised by this attitude of MTUC leaders.

For the interests of the workers, MTUC leaders should take an enlightened and "smart" approach to promote the cause of labour, commend the DAP for showing continuing interest in labour policies and legislation and should encourage all political parties to have an active labour interest, whether in organising regular conferences on labour questions or maintaining contact with the political parties.

Or are the MTUC leaders implying that the DAP should stay away from labour issues altogether and when labour bills are tabled in Parliament, DAP MPs should show total disinterest and that they should not be raising any labour issue, whether during debate or question time, in Parliament?

It is time for the MTUC Working Committee to justify its decision not to take part in today’s labour conference on the ground that it is organised by the DAP Labour Bureau.

(18/5/97)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong