ON May 1, Malaysian workers will celebrate Workers’ Day along with millions of their counterparts in more than 80 countries.
Workers’ Day was declared a public holiday in 1973 by the then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein following strong representation for years by the trade union movement led by Dr V. David, the deputy president of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC).
The gesture was in recognition of workers’ contribution to the nation.
The industrial harmony in the country is largely attributed to goodwill and understanding between workers and the employers besides pragmatic labour policies, a key factor in the remarkable development of the nation since independence in 1957.
I recall, in post-war Malaya, workers resorted to various forms of industrial action like strikes, work-to-rule, go-slow, wildcat strikes and so on, to back their claims for better wages and conditions of service.
Most of the strikes were by workers in rubber plantations, large factories and bus companies, causing inconvenience to the public, heavy losses to employers and loss of income to workers who virtually lived from hand to mouth.
With the registration of trade unions in 1951, workers were represented by unions like the National Union of Plantation Workers, Transport Workers Union, Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya, to name a few.
Through timely intervention by the authorities most proposed strikes were averted and many were called off after protracted negotiations between the employers and the unions.
A major strike by 13,000 employees of the Malayan Railway in December 1962 demanding that 9,000 of its daily-rated workers be paid monthly salaries, was the longest in Malaysian history. The entire railway network came to a grinding halt.
Besides the people, traders and businesses were also badly hit, as transportation of essential goods, including rubber and tin, was held up.
The strike which lasted 22 days put the Government, as a model employer, in a bad light.
Finally, the Government led by the then Transport Minister Tun Sardon Zubir relented.
Needless to say, workers are the backbone of the country and their well-being is of paramount importance.