Employees should equip themselves with the right knowledge

It is essential that employees know about their rights in order to avoid exploitation, says lawyer Selvamalar Alagaratnam.

“In unionised industries, there are collective bargaining agreements and union representatives who can assist. Otherwise many are not aware of their rights, ” says Selvamalar, who is co-head of Skrine law firm’s employment practice.

“I think many of those in retail jobs tend to be school leavers who may not have the benefit of life experience and may accept the ongoing practice as how things should be. It is a question of being equipped with the right knowledge, ” she adds.

One way to address this problem is to step up checks and audits, says Selvamalar.

“The Labour Department has the authority to audit their [retail business] payroll records so if the Labour Department finds there are no written employment contracts, or finds that salaries are deducted arbitrarily, then they should take action, ” she says.

If there is to be a movement on this issue, Selvamalar says that it would have to depend on those who are not working as retail employees.

“It is unrealistic to expect the current workforce to do it because their rice bowls are at stake. If they are currently in the job, they are unlikely to complain.”

We should not tolerate exploitation

Members of the workforce and society as a whole must never tolerate the abuse and exploitation of workers, says The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J. Solomon.

“Though there are provisions in Section 24 (1) – 24 (4) of the Employment Act 1955, employers should exercise caution and care not to deduct from workers’ salaries without the approval of the [Human Resources Ministry] Director General and consent from the workers, ” he says.

Solomon adds that workers should not be punished for the failure of the employer to tighten control systems, or put in place proper monitoring systems etc.

“The employer must provide the employees with a payslip, detailing the gross salary earned, less any lawful deductions made, and the net salary to be received by the employees, ” he adds.

If a worker believes that they have been mistreated, they should first attempt to speak to the employer, says Soloman, although he acknowledges that this can be challenging at times.

“Not all employers are open to complaints from their employees, and this may work against the employee concerned. Most workers are afraid to file complaints against their employer due to the possibility of retaliation by the employer, ” he explains.

He adds that in addition to the Labour department, employees who feel that they have been mistreated may also go to the MTUC, to their respective the trade unions if they have been unionised, the Industrial Relations department or to free legal aid centres for help.

“It is likely that many workers, especially from the lower and middle-income category, will simply choose to walk away [if exploited]. Victims are often not able to undertake the quest for justice, because of lack of knowledge, lack of time and lack of financial resources, ” he explains.

“As such, perpetrators of injustice get off scot-free. And it will be business as usual for the employer, ” he says, while urging members of the workforce to join a union to protect their rights.

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