On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Roasted by the chicken affair

The leaders of the country's two largest  unions should have realised that  chicken, or a chicken-based meal,  is not only the cheapest meat but  also a Malaysian favourite. They are either
out of touch with  consumer reality or
have over-estimated their strength. Anyone who has been to our pasar malam or
wet markets recently  would be able to
tell the unions that  beef, fish or
prawns are more expensive than chicken meat. And even before anyone could  cry foul over the boycott, a senior  unionist was caught at a Kentucky  Fried Chicken outlet. Needless to say,
feathers were  ruffled and there were
plenty of  red faces  as red as cock combs. The MTUC has yet to
announce  the fate of Mr K.
Somasundram,  the MTUC assistant
secretary  caught treating his daughter
to a  chicken lunch on the first day
of  the supposed boycott of the meat.
Somasundram, it was reported,  was merely
trying to be a good father. His five-year-old daughter  wanted chicken nuggets, so he  bought some. The only problem was that
Somasundram was also a co-ordinator of 
the campaign. The incident has left him with  more than he can chew, and it will  be difficult for Malaysians to swallow his
explanation. Zainal Rampak, the MTUC president and veteran of many political
parties, was no match for Colonel 
Sanders, as far as the child was 
concerned. Poultry farmers are saying that  the cost of chicken feed is no  “chicken feed.'' Chicken feed used by
Malaysian  farmers are 65% corn and
soya  bean, which make the chickens  grow big. The feed includes palm oil kernel,
tapioca chips and grass  pellets. It's
all very scientific. The  MTUC and Cuepacs
leaders, like  many of us, must have
thought otherwise. The adage that “the early 
bird catches the worm'' does not 
quite hold water these days. Umno Youth chief Datuk Zahid  Hamidi has an apt Bahasa Malaysia description
for the chicken boycott   hangat hangat
tahi ayam (flash  in the pan). Even Fomca
president Prof Hamdan Adnan isn't quite convinced,  saying the campaign should be targeted at
eateries and that consumers should be allowed to buy at the  markets. Hamdan, who was attending a  consumer conference in Penang  last week, told reporters that union  officials were sore with him over  his purported lack of support for  the boycott. Our unions, presumably,
never  thought that their chicken
boycott  would leave a bitter taste in
everyone's mouth. Hamdan, who was supposed to 
share his hotel room with a unionist, said his partner did not show  up. He wasn't sure whether it had  anything to do with the chicken  boycott. Following the failure of the
boycott, the two unions appear to have 
chickened out from further action 
against roti canai sellers and kopi 
tiam operators. They can hardly be blamed. Too  many of our unionists have grown  fat. Comfortable in their bush jackets, no
one can tell them apart from  government
officials and corporate  leaders these
days. Overseas trips and high salaries, 
it seems, have made some lose 
sight of the working and living conditions of the working class. They  have to realise that unionism goes  beyond issuing press statements  and asking for pay increases. Members, for
example, have a  right to know what they
are doing  to cut down expenses and
increase  productivity, Accountability
and transparency  should not be just
buzzwords for  the public and private
sectors but  also the unions. One
unionist, in his quest for publicity and sycophancy, announced  that members were willing to take  a pay cut 
without seeking the endorsement of his members. Needless to say, the
members  were outraged at his statement.
The chicken boycott is another  example
of where our Malaysian  unions have gone
wrong. There is always a need to look at 
issues from all sides. It's no good 
saying let's boycott chicken without considering the consequences  to the industry, including the position of
poultry farm workers. Perhaps the unions can learn  from this experience and be more  mature in their approach. It is all  right to be less gung-ho if their efforts
benefit everyone. If there is any Malaysian who has  found the prices of chicken to be  unbearable, it would have to be  poor Somasundram. For the rest of us, there
was nothing to crow about.