Malaysia Airlines flight attendants ditch in-house union for new national body. Trade unionists used to be a militant lot. The predecessor to the MAS Employees Union (Maseu) used to be feared by both the airline and the Government: when it staged the infamous airline strike in the late 70s, the Hussein Onn administration had to bring the issue to the Dewan Rakyat for a resolution. One labour correspondent recalled the famous last words of the union boss Mohamed Hahi Hussein then: "We want peace in one piece, not in pieces".
Today, Maseu isn't what it used to be. Or the employees are the militant ones, harder to please. In an unprecedented referendum by way of secret balloting organized by the Ministry of Human Resources last week, flight attendants with the national airline voted to find out if the majority wanted Maseu or a newly-registered National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia or Nufam. The outcome had been expected: they voted out Maseu. (Note: Official results aren't out yet but do read the Mole's report h e r e).
Maseu officials have started to blame everyone (except themselves, of course). They are particularly sore with the management for adopting a "neutral" position. They felt that the Board, the CEO and the top management should have openly thrown their support for Maseu. In the middle of the secret balloting last week, the union called for a press conference and urged the Government to replace the airline's management!
Meanwhile, in the banking sector, a national union is back-pedalling against a small
in-house body. At Maybank, the country's largest commercial bank, employees are rejecting the national union in favour of a tighter, in-house outfit. The National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE), one of the richest trade unions before a series of self-inflicted financial crises of the 90s, is reacting badly to the reception given by the management towards the in-house union. Same sob story: the union accuses the management of the bank of trying to put it out of business and even blame the Minister for their predicament. At the recent general election, a group of trade unionists reportedly took to campaigning against the then Human Resources Minister in his constituency in the hope that he'd lose his seat!
Expect another secret balloting as the more affluent Malaysian workers exercise this new-found freedom.