PETALING JAYA: The MTUC, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) and the Bar Council are protesting against the Government’s plan to relocate the Industrial Court in Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya.
The move would violate the basic principle of the Industrial Court as a court of equity dispensing speedy resolutions at low costs, its three prime users told The Star.
They cited the waste of resources getting to and from Putrajaya, waste of public money in the recent renovations of the existing building and the perception of a loss of independence of the court by being located in the same building as the Human Resources Ministry.
“The government's reasons are not logical. We have no objections if they want to set up an administrative office for the court in the same building as the ministry but not for the court itself to move there,” said MTUC secretary- general G. Rajasekaran and MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan.
Asked whether the labour department or industrial relations' (IR) conciliation offices – the first stop for dismissed or aggrieved employees before seeking a reference to the Industrial Court – had also moved to Putrajaya, Rajasekaran replied: “While the headquarters of the respective departments have moved, the IR office in Jalan Ampang is still operating and the labour courts servicing the Klang Valley are still in Kuala Lumpur, Subang Jaya and Port Klang.”
Rajasekaran said they were told of the move during a meeting with the Industrial Court president in early January.
He said the union wrote to the minister on Jan 10 expressing their concern but received a reply reiterating the decision to move the court.
In the letter dated Jan 27, ministry deputy secretary-general Selvaraj Arokiam said the court had not moved with all the other federal departments during the relocation exercise in August 2001 as there were “plans at the time for the construction of its own building in Kuala Lumpur.”
“However, due to unavoidable circumstances, this is now not possible. After considering the importance of the Industrial Court itself and current policy, the ministry has decided that the Industrial Court will move to the administrative centre of the Federal Government in Putrajaya. With that, all departments under the ministry will be located together,” Selvaraj said.
Shamsuddin contended the move would be counter-productive as long and valuable hours would be wasted commuting.
”If time and transport costs are high, you defeat the purpose of the Industrial Court being a court of equity for the speedy resolution of industrial disputes at low costs.
“The taxi fare from the MEF office in Petaling Jaya to KL Sentral is RM11, the ERL to Putrajaya is RM10 and the feeder service to the ministry block would be between RM1 and RM2. And all this translates into at least an hour of travel. Also, dining outlets are few and meals cost more in Putrajaya.
“There are 21 chairmen now. Multiply that with the number of people who have to get there in time for hearings and, all in all, it’s a waste of valuable resources,” he said, adding that the MEF had written to the minister to register their protest.
The Bar Council's Industrial Court and Practice chairman Roy Rajasingham said the return taxi fare to Putrajaya was RM60.
“Taking an average of five days for mention and case management and 10 days of hearing, a person is looking at a transport bill of RM900.
“For someone who is dismissed, jobless and seeking justice, having to pay RM900 is an injustice in itself. Also, if counsel is not reimbursed, lawyers will be reluctant to represent these people. This is not the fault of lawyers but the system – we have a practice to maintain and are not a charitable organisation.
“The current premises is accessible by bus, train, LRT and taxi and the feedback from our clients is that Putrajaya will not be the most ideal location.”
All three were in agreement that the renovation of the existing premises, as well as the recent adding-on and equipping of the new courtrooms, would be a waste of public money if the whole court was relocated.
“It will also inconvenience the court chairmen and staff. Will they be given allowances for this?” asked Rajasingham.
On the policy to locate all federal departments under one roof, he pointed out that the Industrial Court “is a court of law concerned with social justice. It is an independent body and cannot be made to look like a department.”
Shamsuddin agreed, saying that “the physical presence of the court in Putrajaya may give the impression that it is now part of the ministry set-up and will raise questions of whether unseen hands are playing a role in the hearing of the cases.”
“If we have a system operating well in KL, why move and cause wastage of resources?” he asked.