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‘Labour disputes may be open to abuse’

KUALA LUMPUR: The labour chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will open up Malaysia’s industrial court system to abuse, said Bantah TPPA.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia treasurer and coordinator of Bantah TPPA Sivarajan Arumugam said certain provisions have been inserted into the labour chapter, for example Article 19.12, which allows investors to take the legal process out of the country.

“TPPA is asking to set up a labour council and a labour consultation. This is separate, meaning that any investor that comes to Malaysia and then they employ local workers, they want a separate labour consultation platform. And in under this platform, let’s say the investor and workers or the union have a dispute, they can form a labour council and consultation. Malaysia will be bound to do it,” he told reporters on Friday.

“We have a very long established industrial court system. Does this mean that investors don’t have to go to our industrial court?

“They can ask the government, according to the TPPA, to form a separate consulting platform, where I want to have a consultation and a council. We are bound by that.

“The worst thing after this is that if the consulting parties fail to resolve the matter no later than 60 days after the date of receipt, the investing party can request for the establishment of a panel under Article 28.7 in the dispute settlement chapter,” he said.

According to him, investors can avoid going to the local industrial court by requesting for labour consultation and if the consultation fails to resolve the dispute, the investor can directly refer the case to the international arbitration centre.

“What is going to happen to our labour court system? This is very dangerous. While the labour chapter has been hailed for taking care of our labour rights, but inside it, this is what you have. You have the opportunity for investors, employers to bypass our legal system, our industrial court system and judges, and directly take the matter to the international court,” he added.

In addition, he said, the International Labour Organisation Convention can be complied with even without TPPA.

“Our contention has always been that Malaysia, without TPPA, can at any time comply with the convention. A lot of labour standards will be updated through this convention,” Sivarajan said.

“The Human Resource Ministry still can comply to this convention without the TPPA. It is misleading for the International Trade and Industry Ministry to say that with TPPA, now your labour rights can be updated.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) president Dr Molly Cheah said the TPPA will make it difficult for Malaysia to regulate the use of tobacco in the country.

“Malaysia had tabled a total carve-out for tobacco from the TPPA in other words, this trade agreement does not apply to tobacco because it does affect the tobacco control activities of the government. Unfortunately, at the last part of the negotiations, in Atlanta in October, we found that the American voice prevailed.

“As you know the American voice is dictated mainly by the tobacco industry. Malaysia lost that proposal. In its place, it mentioned in the ISDS investment chapter, there is an exemption for tobacco control activities but it is not clear 100% how that is going to be done, because there is a provision in there that says the government can elect to deny the industry of suing or not suing.

“That is a grey area because they say that if you are given the choice to do it, then what happens if you have a weak government? You then allow the tobacco industry to force their case on to you. And there are at least seven to nine chapters in the TPPA that actually affect tobacco control in the country or any other countries. We are still studying the impact,” she said.

Cheah cited an example, whereby it is unclear whether there is exemption for tobacco under regulatory coherence. If there is no exemption, Malaysia would not be able to table any tobacco control act and it would be very difficult for the government to regulate the use of tobacco in this country.

“It is an absolute let down by the government to the hard work that all the tobacco control advocates had done to push for the total tobacco carve out for the country,” she added.

Bantah TPPA chairman Mohd Nizam Mahshar said out of the concerns it had outlined earlier before the final text was made public, 80% of its concerns turned out to be accurate while new concerns have also cropped up in the final text. He said its earlier reviews were done based on previously signed free trade agreements.

“We call on the government to finalise and release the Cost-Benefit Analysis and National Interest Analysis as soon as possible so that an informed analysis or study can be done in reference to the final document so that we do not make the wrong decision for our country’s future,” he said.

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