PETALING JAYA: The decision of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) to vote against the Convention Concerning Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work is shocking, says a social activist.
Aegile Fernandez called it an act of failure in protecting workers' rights.
She said all workers, regardless of status or orientation, must be given the highest respect.
"Workers must have their dignity and rights respected, and if you are unable to do that, then you must step down as a leader.
"As far as I have been taught, excluding a worker from the protection of their basic rights and justice because of their race, gender, immigration status, or sexual orientation, is wrong," Fernandez said in an open letter to the Malaysian delegation to the International Labour Conference in Geneva held from June 10-21.
The delegation was led by Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran.
MTUC and MEF reportedly voted against the treaty because it included an LGBT clause where the community was listed as a "vulnerable" group in the convention draft in March 2018.
However, it is learned that the reference was eventually removed.
Two government representatives at the conference also abstained from voting, which Fernandez saw as being "fearful".
"By abstaining, you are complicit in enabling a culture of humiliation and suffering (that) workers endure.
"By abstaining, you have shown you are fearful (and) we hope you can tell us what fear is so we can work to move forward together," said Fernandez, who is also co-director of Tenaganita, a human rights and non-profit organisation.
Meanwhile, MalaysiaKini reported that Kulasegaran as saying that the government's neutral stand on the treaty was because it did not wish to be in conflict with the stakeholders.
"In the adoption of the convention on violence and harassment in the world of work, the government of Malaysia voted to abstain due to the following reason - that is, we cannot be in conflict with our stakeholders, the MTUC and MEF - and therefore we took a neutral stand for now.
"In the spirit of tripartism, which is the core value of international labour standards, our ministry consulted with MTUC and MEF and was informed that both parties had a strong opposition towards the convention.
"Both voted no. Taking into consideration these strong views by both workers and employers, it is of concern that the proposed convention includes a wide scope of application for workers, including those not in actual employment including job-seekers, temporary workers, etc," he was reported as saying.
Kulasegaran also said that while Malaysia abstained on voting on the treaty, the government voted in support of ILO's recommendation, which was non-binding, adding that it was also committed to ensuring labour rights were protected, including from violence and harassment at the workplace.
Note: This story was amended to reflect that Fernandez was speaking in her personal capacity.