A few hours ago leaders of the Sabah Timber Industry Employees’ Union (STIEU) emerged from the Court of Appeal in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (Malaysia), elated from the news that Sabah Forest Industries’ (SFI) latest attempt to frustrate union recognition had been thrown out by the Court. While SFI still have 30 days to appeal this decision, this represents a huge step in what has been an almost thirty-year struggle to achieve union recognition and begin collective bargaining.
“The STIEU embody what it means to be union, to fight for the rights of working people and to never give up”, said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “The BWI is incredibly proud of the STIEU’s ongoing struggle, and unions around the globe have shown their deep solidarity with them on numerous occasions. They have set an inspiring example to workers everywhere.”
On three separate occasions SFI have used judicial review proceedings and other delay tactics to avoid engaging in collective bargaining. Without a collective agreement, workers’ wages and conditions have languished around the legal minimums allowed under Malaysian law. Earlier this year STIEU picketed SFI for 11 days straight in the baking hot sun, demanding action on wage arrears. Their victory gave the union added impetus to continue their fight for respect and dignity in the workplace.
Last year the Forest Stewardship Council disassociated SFI for their continued use of judicial review proceedings to undermine workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and earlier this year they were also stripped of PEFC Chain of Custody certification on the same grounds. The International Financial Corporation, the private investment arm of the World Bank, is currently undergoing investigation for breach of its own due diligence procedures, having invested US$500 million in SFI and their Indian parent company BILT.
“This is the tip of the iceberg for our union”, said STIEU Secretary General Engrit Liaw. “The SFI plant at Sipitang has been non-operational for months, following serious health and safety violations. In 2015 three workers lost their lives for this company. All of this could have been avoid if workers had been given a voice. Instead, we have demanded one. SFI will not ignore us again.”
Once SFI’s thirty-day appeal window has transpired, STIEU’s next step is to win a secret ballot before initiating collective bargaining proceedings.