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Malaysian union victorious after seven year battle over unfair dismissals

16 November, 2020The National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW) has emerged victorious after seven years of legal battles fighting the unfair dismissal of 18 members for exercising their political rights.

The 18 workers from Hicom Automotive Manufacturers and Isuzu Hicom Malaysia were dismissed by the company in 2013 for supporting an opposition party candidate in an election activity while wearing company uniform.

During the general election, the workers supported an initiative of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) that aimed to submit workers’ demands to all political party candidates.

The car manufacturer accused the workers of tarnishing the image of the company and violating disciplinary rules. But the workers stressed that it was their right to support the MTUC’s worker-related demands, and rebutted the accusation by claiming that the company had allowed the Prime Minister from the ruling party to meet workers in uniform at the plant during election campaign period.

In 2018, the industrial court ruled that the punishment by the company was disproportionate, and awarded a total of MYR 1.1 million (US $267,000) in back pay to the 18 workers. The high court sustained the decision but deducted 30 per cent of the back pay in 2019. Eventually the federal court dismissed the company’s appeal on 4 November 2020.

The general secretary of NUTEAIW, N. Gopal Kishnam says :

“Although we are not fully satisfied that the 18 workers were not reinstated, the award shows Hicom has committed unfair dismissal and deprived workers’ political rights. Workers, like other citizens, have freedom to take part in political activity to improve the well-being of workers, it cannot be taken away just because they incidentally wear the company uniforms.”

IndustriALL Global Union regional secretary for South East Asia, Annie Adviento says :

“We call on Hicom to respect the freedom of expression of NUTEAIW members. The principle of the Declaration of Philadelphia that ‘freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress’ must be upheld.”