Tit-for-tat between MTUC official and Idris Buang heats up

Andrew Lo

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, Feb 21: The debate between Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Sarawak Division secretary Andrew Lo and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) information chief Datuk Idris Buang continues today with the former accusing Idris of being ultra-defensive and paranoid, while the latter countered that both Lo and MTUC chairman Mohd Ibrahim had been lying through their teeth.

In a statement to rebut Idris’ statement yesterday, Lo said, “We refer to the ultra-defensive and paranoid response by PBB information chief Datuk Idris Buang who resorted to personal attacks and wild accusations against union officials instead of addressing issues affecting workers in Sarawak.

“Unlike him, we have no doubt that his statement has the full approval of the PBB top leadership and (was) fully deliberated by their top-level meeting. Since he is the information chief, we must take his views as the official view of PBB. It is shocking that the backbone party of the state government resorts to personal attacks that illuminate their failures to engage constructively with workers in Sarawak on fundamental issues,” said Lo today.

Datuk Idris Buang

In a direct response, Idris said, “I have proof from a “very reliable insider” that the statement issued by Andrew Lo, secretary of MTUC Sarawak Division, was never brought first to any of their council or board meetings.

“I have the evidence that this present statement by its chairman, Haji Mohd Ibrahim, is just a mere afterthought — a face-saving effort, so to speak,” said Idris.

The Muara Tuang lawmaker reiterated that Lo’s statement in question, by its nature, was very crude, randomised, and unprofessional.

“No way could all the 70,000 workers under MTUC banner in Sarawak, which includes my own friends and relatives, be blindly bound by his said statement.

“Both Andrew and Haji Mohd is/are lying. I have the proof which I, hereby, promise to reveal if the situation warrants it so that the truth will prevail. I was a trained police investigator and also a criminal trial lawyer. I know what truth is and what is otherwise. Truths can never be the same as lies,” cautioned Idris.

Meanwhile, Lo asserted that the Sarawak government did not seem to understand the difference between the creation of jobs and the creation of decent jobs.

“There is absolutely no point in creating tens of thousands of jobs in timber and oil palm plantations only to have more than 80 per cent of them filled by foreign workers. The oil palm industry’s own figures stated that more than 80 per cent of employees is only paid minimum wages, despite some working for more than 10 years.

“He (Idris) refuses to address why not a single one out of 29 ministers and assistant ministers is responsible for labour, despite their insisting that any laws relating to labour must have the consent of the state government.

“He refuses to address the question why 10 out of 17 poorest districts are in Sarawak even though we rank No. 3 in GDP. Perhaps, he should know that even now, more than 86 per cent of Sarawakians earn below $5,000 a month and that household debt is at 146 per cent of household income, meaning that for every Ringgit we earn, we already owed RM1.46,” said Lo.

Lo claimed MTUC Sarawak had called for the setting up of such an important position ever since the days when the Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud was the chief minister until now.

“Please google all our statements on this issue. We are happy to provide Idris with hard copies.

“He talks about MTUC being a strategic partner. No. 1, you do not question the structure and authority of officials of your strategic partner, and No. 2, our numerous suggestions, memorandum to the state government to set a state-level human resources consultative platform for all tripartite partners — government, employers and employees — to find ways to move forward, has fallen on deaf ears,” Lo claimed.

Lo added that the state government had been making arbitrary decisions on issues affecting Sarawak workers as well as taken positions on the ongoing amendments of labour laws without ever seeking the views of workers in Sarawak.

“They may have consulted with employers, but never with the workers. Perhaps, PBB only listens to the views of employers. We have not seen any statement from PBB or its YBs urging employers, especially timber companies, to increase minimum wages to be at par with those West Malaysia’s. This is despite the fact that cost of living is much higher in Sarawak.

“Instead we have seen statements by government YBs parroting the calls by employers to delay the implementation of minimum wages. This despite the fact that at that time, 48.1 per cent of workers in Sarawak earned below the poverty line of RM800.

“Even when the state government organises a forum to seek ways to resolve the shortage of workers in the oil palm industry, it deliberately denies any representation for workers to air their views. They only invite employers and industry players. This is arrogance at its worse.

“We are not expecting the state government to create decent jobs for itself, but it must have the wisdom and be smart enough to design long-term policies to attract investments and encourage the creation of decent jobs. Instead of creating high value and decent jobs, we allowed in tens of thousands of low-wage and unskilled workers All these directly drive Sarawakians to seek employment outside Sarawak, resulting in quite a few to be conned,” said Lo.

Lo claimed that with PBB’s overwhelming majority in the State Legislative Assembly, MTUC Sarawak expected PBB not to be so defensive and paranoid and not to treat every criticism as a political conspiracy/agenda.

“PBB should be thankful MTUC has always been apolitical. We will work with any party to advance the economic interest of local workers, which will lead to higher domestic consumption and, therefore, enhance economic growth and development,” said Lo. — DayakDaily