SFI Workers Win Round 1; Want Union Recognised Next After Wages Settled

SFI workers whose union the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union is not recognised by the management, picketing in front of the SFI headquarters in Sipitang.

SIPITANG: Workers at Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) are elated at getting paid their back wages Tuesday morning, a result of their almost two-week long pickets.

Engrit Liaw

Members of the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU) have endured baking-hot tropical heat and survived off donations as well as collective goodwill and solidarity, demonstrating to SFI that they will not back down.

STIEU General Secretary Engrit Liaw said the news that all workers have now been paid, is like “a gust of wind in our sails”.

“We will now move on to the next stage of our struggle – towards trade union recognition,” she said in a statement to BorneoToday.

Liaw expressed her thanks to the heartfelt support they had received from a cross section of society, including political parties.

“It has been truly humbling to receive so much support from our fellow workers across the world – from Colombia to the Philippines, from Ukraine to India – as well as the backing and confidence of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress.

“We cannot thank you enough,” she added.

For decades now the STIEU has been battling to achieve union recognition. On three separate occasions the Government has demanded SFI recognise the union, and each time SFI have used judicial review proceedings to frustrate these attempts.

Union recognition is required under Malaysian law before collective bargaining can take place.

SFI workers had been picketing for almost two weeks and finally on Tuesday, they received their February wages.

“Without a collective agreement, our wages have barely moved in years. Any arrears in our wages will immediately make our lives difficult,” Liaw said. “In our view, it shouldn’t be this difficult to achieve union recognition.

“We have recently met with government officials and discussed possible law changes that prevent companies like SFI from being able to constantly undermine our rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”

STIEU members, she said, are united in the on-going demand for union recognition, and the picket has significantly strengthened their bargaining power.

This May 19, SFI’s appeal will be heard in the Court of Appeal; in the meantime STIEU is gearing themselves up to mount sustained pressure for their rights.

“Today is the International Day of Forests, and this victory serves as a fitting reminder of the critical importance of protecting the rights of forest workers as part of sustainable forest management,” Liaw added.

SFI was the first company in the world to be stripped of its Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for workers’ rights violations. If a legislative solution is not found to this issue soon then the Malaysian forestry industry’s international reputation will be at risk.

If the Malaysian forestry industry wishes to remain competitive in the international market then this issue must be addressed immediately.”

“SFI still has time to do the right thing and recognise the trade union. Our door is open. Let’s negotiate,” added Liaw.