By GM THOMAS
KUCHING: Embattled Sarawak timber company Zedtee Plywood Sdn Bhd has been instructing workers not to vote in a secret ballot scheduled for this Sunday in violation of their right to freedom of association, claims the Timber Industry Employees Union of Sarawak (TIEUS).
“We have learnt that over the last couple of days Zedtee has conducted a string of meetings with workers that are eligible to vote in the upcoming secret ballot elections, instructing them not to vote,”said TIEUS President Agat Sagai.
“Given that the majority of these workers are migrants and their immigration status is tied to their employment, they do not feel like they can afford to speak out or vote against the company. This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of association.”
Zedtee Plywood, part of the Shin Yang Group, employs more than 1,000 workers in Tatau, Sarawak.
It has previously been the subject of two separate freedom of association complaints regarding the termination of a union organiser who had spoken out against violations of labour law and workers’ contracts, including illegal deductions for sick leave, overtime violations, and the destruction of migrant workers’ personal property.
“We previously raised concerns about violations of the right to freedom of association to the timber certification body SIRIM-QAS, however they did not find a violation of their chain of custody Standard,”,said Asia-Pacific Regional Representative of the Building and Wood Workers’ International Apolinar Tolentino.
“A subsequent complaint to the Grievance Mechanism of the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, because they were not managing the particular construction site that was importing Zedtee’s concrete formwork.”
The union states that the company began the meetings after seeing a facebook post in which the union had held an out-of-work-hours activity educating Zedtee workers about their rights as workers and how to participate in the upcoming union election.
“Gone are the days when companies like Zedtee can act with impunity”, said Agat Sagai. “Workers’ fundamental rights to join unions is supported by Malaysian law, and we will continue to pursue this matter until workers can organise without fear of retribution.”
A Zedtee Plywood worker who declined to be named fearing management reprisal, said workers were “briefed” daily not to attend the secret ballot, let alone vote.
He said the briefings were conducted by factory manager, Chan Souh Teng, Production Manager, identified only as Hwan and Engineering Manager Lau Sie Kuk adding that the production manager was the most foul-mouthed.
He said names of those eligible to vote had been posted on their factory site notice board and had observed familiar names of workers who had already resigned from the factory, on that list.
“Workers are too afraid to speak up. They don’t want to even talk about it,” he said adding that there was a fatal worksite accident sometime in June this year but because there was no union presence to ensure workers’ rights were upheld, he was unsure if the unfortunate worker’s family were compensated according to the law.
The worker explained that Zedtee Plywood in Tatau operated 24 hours running on two shifts and workers had to leave their mobile phones at their dormitory so it was impossible to record the morning briefing as evidence that can be used to file complaints for an intervention from the Industrial Relations Department.