THE Human Resources Ministry would like to respond to “Minister must continue with screening role” (The Star, July 11).
The Industrial Relations Department views that the recommendation that the Human Resources minister release his discretionary powers to determine whether or not to refer a representation to the Industrial Court as an accurate proposition.
The power of the minister under subsection 20 (3) of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177) derives from amendments made in 1975. This provision empowers the minister to refer or not to refer a representation to the Industrial Court if the representation is not successfully resolved through conciliation proceedings by the Industrial Relations director-general (DGIR).
The discretionary power of the minister under subsection 20 (3) of Act 177 has been questioned by stakeholders, especially workers’ unions on the grounds that it denied workers who have been dismissed by employers access to the Industrial Court to obtain justice.
The DGIR agrees with the recommendation of the minister on the following grounds:
> The issue of dismissal is closely related to the right to life as decided by the Federal Court in the case of R. Rama Chandran v Industrial Court & Anor  1 CLJ 147.
In this case, the Federal Court had cited Tan Tek Seng v. Education Service Commission  2 AMR 1617 stating that: “life” in Article 5 (1) of the Constitution, as Sri Ram JCA has said in Tan Tek Seng v. Education Service Commission  2 AMR 1617, 1654, is wide enough to encompass the right to be engaged in lawful and gainful employment.
“In this regard, every citizen should be given the right to life where in the context of dismissal, access to justice in court.”
Therefore, it is more equitable if all representations that cannot be resolved through conciliation are referred directly to the Industrial Court for a decision.
> The proposal for direct reference of the unfair dismissal cases to the Industrial Court, will shorten the time taken for the resolution of a case. The process in which the minister exercises his quasi judicial power whether to refer or not to refer the matter to the Industrial Court will be eliminated. The elimination of this work process can certainly help expedite completing the case as a whole.
> The existing mechanism that provides discretionary powers to the minister can only be challenged via a writ of judicial review in the High Court where the cost to file the action is very high. This would certainly cause inconvenience to the parties, especially low income-earners.
CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS UNIT,
HUMAN RESOURCES MINISTRY