The Law, Industrial Relations and The Average Joe

I have a friend who is in a bit of a quandary. He believes in the justice system, puts his faith in the justice system but he is having that feeling that his belief and faith, not to mention his patience, is at present being sorely tested. Now, before anyone starts shouting, ‘Subjudice’ (getting used to all these legal terms after all the high-profile legal cases being brought to court), judgement in my friend’s case has been rendered, and so being in contempt of the courts does not arise.

Malaysia: Putrajaya: Palace of Justice

The Palace of Justice, Putrajaya, Malaysia

The story that is of my friend ‘s could be said to be that of an average Joe versus the mighty and rich corporations. For want of a better name and for anonymity’s sake, lets refer to him as Joe (very original, isn’t it?).

Joe once worked for a public listed company (plc). Again for want of a better name and again for the sake of anonymity, lets call this plc Public Co Berhad. To cut a long story short, Joe filed a complaint to the Jabatan Perhubungan Perusahaan (Labour Relations Office) for non-payment of his salaries (about 6-7 months worth) by Public Co Berhad. Negotiations conducted by the Labour Relations Office did not result in a satisfactory conclusion, and so Joe’s case was brought to the attention of the then Minister of Human Resources who, based on the recommendations of the Labour Relations Office, recommended that the case be heard in the Mahkamah Perusahaan (Industrial Court).

And so starts another chapter in Joe’s story. Financial constraints and other factors dictated that Joe could not hire a lawyer. So what Joe did was to engage an alternative, namely the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), to represent him. After all, as Joe said emphatically, ‘we are talking about the law here and I am no lawyer’. MTUC’s fees were reasonable and affordable for someone in Joe’s financial position, and from then on, it was no looking back.

It took the case three long years after Joe first filed the complaint before judgement was finally rendered. To Joe’s delight, it was a judgement in his favour, repaying his faith and trust in the justice system. The judgement included an order for Public Co Berhad to pay Joe Joe’s dues within thirty days from the date of the judgement. Six months down the road, nothing happened, and so Joe, at the advice of the MTUC, made another trip to the Industrial Court, this time to get a declaration of non-compliance from the Industrial Court against Public Co Berhad. This time, the case was heard by a panel of three-headed by the Chairman of the Industrial Court himself. Joe and MTUC duly got the non-compliance order, the original judgement re-inforced and subsequently, duly registered with the Sessions Court.

Palace of Justice, Putrajaya, Malaysia

It’s now five years since Joe first filed the complaint and almost two years since the judgement in Joe’s favour was first rendered. And Joe has yet to see a single penny that has been decided by the Industrial Court as being due to him. In the interim period, Joe suffered a serious heart attack and was in a coma for more than a week. His father also passed away after a long period of illness, and all Joe could do was watch his siblings took care of the financial arrangements for his father’s funeral.

Financially, he’s strapped for cash with a wife and five kids to support. Whatever savings he had and they had has been long gone. So strapped for money was he that his was a familiar face at the local pawn shop. Job applications went by the dozens, by mail and by internet, and did not come back. As they say, when it rains it pours. It poured so badly for Joe that, according to Joe, it’s a miracle he still has a bit of his dignity left.

The way it works, the Malaysian Justice System
(source : itslaw.blogspot.com)

Now, the Public Co Berhad is on the verge of being no more, figuratively and literally. The shares have been de-listed from Bursa Malaysia and are practically ‘worthless paper’, to use a phrase from the pre-computerization boom days. Many of the personnel from his days at Public Co Berhad have either moved elsewhere or are in the process of initiating legal action against Public Co Berhad (for the same reasons as Joe’s). The composition of the Board has changed several times since Joe last attended a Board meeting, not that it mattered any to Joe. All that matters to Joe is whether he will see a single penny from all the judgements that he has gotten by believing the system and following the process.

Joe’s story is not the only story making the rounds. It’s not the first and nor will it be the last. Stories of employees, who after placing their faith in the system and being proven to be in the right, winning their respective cases but being denied by the respective companies their due compensation, either by going bust or by being plain belligerent, are many. Whether these companies go bust for reasons beyond the management’s control or due to gross mismanagement is another matter.

Terms like financial stamina, outlasting (the complainant), and stretching out are just of the terms Joe has heard in his long running episode with Public Co Berhad. Personally, its insulting and degrading. But for Joe, he has no choice but to go through the whole ordeal to the end.

To the ordinary man on the street and who only goes by what is being narrated to him, it seems that following the process to get justice is not worth the time nor the effort. The perception is that since the establishment is pro-business (nothing wrong in that), big companies gets away with a lot of wrong doings, if not murder, in the name of ‘good business’, at the expense of the little man, like our friend Joe. Pro-government sympathisers will argue that this perception is not true, and that the Executive is the Executive, and the Judiciary is the Judiciary, and following the process does get you justice. But in today’s climate where almost everything is politicised (even colours now carry a political connotation) by irresponsible parties, it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince the ordinary man on the street.

Our friend Joe still believes in the system, and still believes in the law. His long-held belief in the law and his unwavering faith in the system have been partially vindicated by the judgements he has received. Now its time to show that the law does actually work for the ordinary man on the street, the Joes if you have it, and that the law does actually have teeth and can actually bite. No more, no less. Otherwise, the law will be as good as the paper its written on. It must never come to that, for surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (until the end of days that is), the law is worth much, much more than the price of an A4 paper.

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