Unions are organizations formed to voice out dissatisfactions and represent interests of employees in a company. In the past, employees- especially those who are low in education level and those who are minorities were exploited because they are not aware of their rights. Therefore, unions exist and sustained till today for two main reasons- to protect the employees and to counter the employers’ powers. Unions normally deal collectively with employer and negotiate labor agreements during the period in which they are effective.
The major goal is to gain the best common interest, working conditions, health benefits and job security for its members. To further understand the function and role play of unions, we conducted a study of a union- NUBE (National Union of Banking Employees) in the banking industry. Based on our research result, this paper will include the background of the chosen union, how this union fights for its members’ benefits, the impacts towards the industry due to its pass success and some personal opinion from a current member in this union obtain through a walk in oral interview.
Brief History of Unions in United States of America and Malaysia In early 1920s, labors had to work extra hours with minimum wages. Neither health benefits nor insurance were included in their contract of working. Later on, things have changed with the existence of unions. One of the earliest unions was The National Labor Union which was founded in 1866. After 1866, more and more unions were formed such as The Knights of Labor, American Federation of Labor and also few acts were passed to protect the labors. In Malaysia, unions started to be in active in 1920s when the Communist Party of Malaya encouraged unskilled workers to unionize.
There were no rules or regulation at all about trade unions at that time. But in 1940, a Trade Unions Enactment was passed in the Federated Malay States. The enactment made it necessary for all trade unions to be registered in order to avoid redundant unions. Trade unions in Malaysia can be divided into three, in-house, national and federation of trade unions. Objective of in-house trade union is to look after the interests of members in that institution only.
While national trade unions are grouped according to industry, trade, or occupation, and their membership is not restricted to a particular institution but geographically where a national trade union can draw its members only from Peninsular Malaysia, or Sabah, or Sarawak. Lastly, a federation of trade unions is a combination of trade unions from similar industries, trades, or occupations. Usually Director General of Trade Unions has the right to decide what similar industries are trades or occupations when there are doubts within the members. Well-known unions in Malaysia consist of Malaysia Rugby Union, The Musicians Union of Malaysia and few others.
National Union of Bank Employee’s Background
National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) consists of more than 30,000 members in the Banking and Financial Institutions in Peninsular Malaysia. It was formed in 1958 with 5 branches under them, the first is combination of Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Pahang (KLSP), second is in Ipoh, the third is in Penang, Kedah and Perlis (PKP), the fourth is in Kelantan and the fifth is in Seremban, Melaka and Johor (SMJ) and their recreational seaside resort which is in Port Dickson.
Like other unions, the reason of having union in any industry is to protect labors and their opinions will be taking in consideration. As for banks, NUBE is a union for all the banks in Malaysia .NUBE’s primary objective is to serve protect and help members regarding their personal benefits and to help the members to negotiate with the banks in order to have a good employee and employer relationship. NUBE can be considered as a middle person or mediator if there is a problem between the banks and the employees.
National Union of Bank Employee’s Battles
When members of the union have an issue which is not being paid attention by the employer or government, NUBE will publicize the issues in order to pressure them. In the pass, NUBE had organized a number of activities in fighting all kinds of benefits for its members such as increasing the salary, improving certain health benefit policies, requesting apologies and demanding compensations for unfair labour practices etc. Some disputes were even brought up to the court when the employer and the union could not compromise. Overall, most of these activities and pickets by NUBE had successfully gain public attention and cause pressure towards the employers to take immediate action in negotiating the solution when an issue is brought up. NUBE Fights for Maternity Leave
In March 2010, NUBE proposed an increase in maternity leave in conjunction with International Women’s Day on the 8th. The “90 Days for Mums – 1 Million Signatures Campaign” was launched later on to garner support for this proposal even though the ministry make it clear that they have no plans in extending the current maternity leave. Apart from defending the rights of female employees in Malaysia that, this campaign also aimed to aware the government that many sections of labour laws in Malaysia were obsolete and adverse. NUBE Secretary-General J. Solomon said that a 60-day maternity leave in Malaysia is not the in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 183 on Maternity Protection. Therefore, the one million signatures will be submitted to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to appeal for an amendment of the Act on maternity leave.
For creating greater awareness to the public, NUBE also sent in memorandum to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development at the launching of the campaign. The result as reported in The Star Online, this campaign successfully received huge support from various parties such as Women’s Aid Organisation, World Alliance on Breastfeeding Action, Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, All Women’s Action Society, Union Network International – MLC (Global Union), Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), Kesatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor, Tenaganita Sdn Bhd, Wanita Gerakan, and Wanita Keadilan. As the result, the huge impact of this campaign had caused the ministry to promise that they will take in consideration of this proposal. Although there is no visible changes in the maternity leave on both private and public sectors yet, NUBE act is consider very important as they have successfully raise awareness and concern to employers about this matter so it could be reviewed with added benefits when the time is right.
NUBE Reports Maybank to MACC
On the February 15 this year, NUBE unionist staged a picket against Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) outside their office at Bangsar. The bank employees who are NUBE members that joined the picket voiced their main dissatisfaction over the stagnant wages issue that is yet to be reviewed by their employer and the dissatisfaction over unfair practice by Maybank. The union members marched into the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and report about Maybank violating the labor and civil laws as well as the collective agreement for launching an in house union called the Maybank non-executive Union (MANEAU). J.Solomon explained that the formation of MANEAU by Maybank serves as a ‘union busting campaign’ because it spoilt NUBE’s negotiation for performance bonus.
It is revealed that employees did not receive any performance bonus at all whereby the CEO of Maybank enjoys a huge sum of 24 months’ salary which total up to RM2,160,000 as his performance bonus. This cause great dissatisfaction among the Maybank employees as is clearly unfair to them. Besides, to stop employees from joining the picket, Maybank also ordered the Malaysian Commercial Bank Association to slash salaries of all employees that take leave to join the picketing. Maybank acted unfair to the employees’ union members and shown effort in blocking any activities of the employees union.
Malaysian Trade Union Congress also reported that Maybank is going against the law by supporting their own in-house union by sponsoring them. Maybank’s act violated the laws as they shouldn’t be sponsoring or supporting any unions. NUBE had shown concern over their member’s disputes and reacted quickly by getting the issue to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak but when it gets no response, NUBE acted by staging a picket, raising awareness to the public of what is happening inside the Malaysia’s biggest financial institution, giving reasonably huge amount of pressure to Maybank in reviewing the matter. NUBE also acted in protecting the bank employee’s rights by reporting the violation of laws by Maybank to the MACC.
NUBE Pickets on Minimum Wages
Recently in Kuala Lumpur, while the rest of the workers across the Malaysia are enjoying their privileges of Labor Day off day on May 1, over a thousand employees gathered together and marched across the city. The main reason the march takes place is to protest against the newly announced minimum wage policy and to fight for basic employee rights. The rally comprising participant mostly from the NUBE, followed by the other unions – Guppy Plastic Industries Workers Union, Occupy Activist, Party Socialist Malaysia, and Women Aid Organization. During the march, their chant includes stop eliminating union organizations and raising the minimum pay from RM 900 to RM 1500, a much fairer pay.
NUBE clarify the much fairer pay as the poverty line according to research is RM 750 and the differences of RM 150 apart from minimum pays are not sufficient. J. Solomon also taken this opportunity to send messages to employers and officers in Human Resource Ministry to abort whatever plan that erode worker’ rights. He also says that it is totally unacceptable as the human resource ministry is plotting with Maybank employers to tears worker apart and attempts to destroy NUBE. Therefore, members from NUBE pickets against Maybank and urges to boycott against the bank.
The Current NUBE Member
The summarized information below is obtained through an interview with a current Maybank employee who is also a NUBE member conducted orally at Maybank Kota Damansara branch on July 2, 2012, 2.30pm. (Refer Appendix A for full interview contents). The interviewee requested to not disclose her personal information. In the following, she will be referred as ‘the interviewee’. To enter the banking industry, one basically must have a certain level of education. Therefore, employees in the banking industry are highly aware of their rights. To ensure that these rights were protected, most of them join the NUBE as it is a more efficient and powerful route for obtaining better working benefits. It is widely known among the banking industry employees that this union is actively fighting the best of possible for its members. This is how the interviewee came to know about the existence of this union and felt secure to be a member of it.
One of the factors related to union success in organizing is having a good leader because a strong leader certainly will give confidence to the members in the union. In return, members will show a relative strong support in the union. J. Solomon (2005), formal NUBE leader once said: “Since my younger days, I’ve never liked to see anyone being bullied. If I see somebody who is weak and cannot speak for themselves, then I’d be an informal leader. That’s how I grew up.” Therefore, according to the interviewee, NUBE’s area representatives were sent to banks quarterly or when there are any grievances in order to maintain close contacts with members, collect feedbacks and update latest information to ensure the members concerns are well taken care off.
The interviewee is positive that J. Solomon is professional in taking care of their dissatisfactions and then fights the best for them. She is happy to received regular updates from area representatives, and is satisfied that the official website is up to date with the latest information about the union activities all the time. Apart from that, she is also pleased that when a contract is coming to an end, all members will be invited to attend meetings to voice out concerns and terms to be renegotiated in the new contract. This is the reason she has been in the union for more than 10 years. Certainly, having loyal members is another factor of the union remaining strong and successful.
NUBE professional attitude is certainly one of the main reasons that their members remain loyal. When it comes to picketing or demonstration, the union will first notify the police about their schedule of activities and obtain a legal approval so that departments who are concern can take any form of precaution to prevent injuries and damages towards the public. This is also another reason that the interviewee support this union all years along because she highly respects J. Solomon attitude in always insisting a peaceful and legal way to express their dissatisfactions so that the employer will resolve the issue for them. “I personally feel that all the union is really needed in order we, the employees are not being exploited and get what we deserve,” she said.
From our research, a strong and effective union is able to increase its members working quality. The few factors that NUBE is so successful are concluded as below: (1) they have active participation from members, (2) they have done proper preparations for further negotiations before hand, (3) they are highly involve in political and civil activities, (4) they have a strong union mentality and most of all (5) a professional leader. (Fossum, 2012) Overall in simple words, in the past, present and future, the existence of unions does and will always play a very crucial role and serve an important purpose towards the society. If there are more NUBEs around the world, it is positive to believe that the rate of exploitation in labors will reduce drastically and the amount of sweatshops will decrease faster especially in rural areas.
Anisah Shukry. (May 1, 2012). On Labour Day, workers march for more money. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/on-labour-day-workers-march-for-more-money/ Baker&Mckenzie. (2009). Malaysia Trade Unions Guide. Retrieved July 11 2012 from http://www.bakermckenzie.com/files/Uploads/Documents/Supporting%20Your%20Business/Global%20Markets%20QRGs/Trade%20Unions%20and%20Works%20Councils/qr_malaysia_tradeunionsguide_2009.pdf Claudia Theophilus. (August 26, 2005). Q&A with the NUBE general-secretary. Retrieved July 5 from http://www.indianmalaysian.com/sound/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=40 John A. Fossum. (2012). Unions: Members and Leader Attitudes, Behaviours, and Political Activities. Labor Relations Development, Structure, Process. 11ed. NY: Mc Graw Hill. Lisa J. Ariffin. (February 15, 2012). NUBE takes Maybank dispute to streets. Retrieved June 18, 2012 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/379377715461781/ Malaymail. (March 2, 2010). Petition for 90 days of maternity leave in progress. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from http://mp.mohr.gov.my/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1862:petition-for-90-days-ofmaternityleaveinprogress&catid=150:news&Itemid=624&lang=my *NUBE Malaysia Facebook Page. (August 11, 2011). About
Basic Info. Retrieved July 10, 2012 from https://www.facebook.com/pages/NUBE-Malaysia/259701940707753?sk=info The Star Online. (March 9, 2009). NUBE goes ahead with maternity leave petition. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=%2F2010%2F3%2F9%2Fnation%2F5820402&sec=nation
*It is very unfortunate that the NUBE official website is still under maintenance since June. According to a current NUBE member, information retrieved from NUBE Malaysia Facebook page is accurate and reliable.