THE Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) took a bewildering stand on Tuesday when it boycotted a scheduled meeting with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) management to discuss the annual dividend for contributors.
The reasons given were baffling, to say the least.
MTUC secretary-general G. Rajasekaran quoted a sources-based front-page report in The Star that said the EPF Board had recommended a dividend of 4.75% for its 10 million members for last year’s savings.
The report said the recommendation had been submitted to the Finance Ministry for approval.
In staying away from the meeting in a very “unMalaysian” manner – MTUC only informed the EPF before the scheduled meeting – Rajasekaran contended that since the report was not denied, it assumed “they have agreed with the suggested payment.”
In Rajasekaran’s own words, the meeting was “to understand how the EPF derived at the percentage of the payout and to negotiate for a slightly better payment.”
The gentlemanly thing to do would have been to attend the meeting, listen to the briefing and put forward arguments before talking to the press or going into the street to demonstrate.
This would have been the most civil thing to do under the circumstances.
To its credit, the MTUC had attended several briefings and meetings with the EPF management in the past.
Why boycott the meeting because of a news report?
Come on MTUC, the leaders themselves know how journalists obtain reports from sources.
In fact, MTUC leaders themselves have in the past offered stories on condition of anonymity.
We have been “spot on” at times and not so accurate on other occasions but that’s the world of journalism.
What’s unsettling here is the gung-ho style of unionism that the new MTUC leadership appears to be adopting for an unsatisfactory reason.
I am not saying conforming is the best way to resolve issues but confrontation must be the last resort.
There are two pertinent facts that I wish to point out here.
The first is that the MTUC has four representatives on the 30-member EPF Board, which sits every month.
So it was represented, adequately or otherwise, when a decision on the dividend rate was made.
It should get the facts of the matter from its representatives before crying foul.
The second fact is that the MTUC’s combined membership of its affiliates is about 750,000 compared to the 10 million EPF contributors.
Based on this number, MTUC cannot continue crowing that it represents all EPF contributors.
Looking back at the triennial delegates conference debates in December, one can’t help but infer that Rajasekaran is playing to the gallery because it was EPF that received the brunt of criticism from delegates.
Many questioned the statutory organisation’s handling of employees’ contributions, which had resulted in dividends dropping until it picked up a little in 2003.
When past president Zainal Rampak was ousted after 20 years at MTUC’s helm by Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud in elections two months ago, many expected the labour movement to be revitalised.
But Rajasekaran and MTUC’s stand appears to be a step backward.
There’s a time to meet, there’s a time to confront, there’s a time to conform and most importantly, there’s a time when one should not fight for the sake of fighting.
Perhaps Syed Sharir, as the new captain at the helm, should plan a fresh course for the MTUC in this age of globalisation.
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