On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Unions fishing in troubled waters

Some of its leaders have decided  to vent
their anger at critics including Fomca, giving the impression  that the MTUC is unable to tolerate  criticism which its unionists freely  dispense almost daily though its  press statements.

A little humility doesn't hurt. The  MTUC
and Cuepacs represent a  large number of
workers, but the  unions should not take
for granted  that they speak on behalf of
all Malaysians.

Neither should the MTUC leadership assume that others, including  the press, have insufficient knowledge of

In respond to my comments last  week,
MTUC vice-president Mustafa Hassan issued a two-page  press release which, among other  things, implied that I do not know  anything about unionism.

In his rebuttal, Mustaffa said  unionists
should be decently  dressed as they
attend many international conferences and meetings.

He also explained that MTUC's 
multi-pronged objectives in the 
chicken boycott included encouraging consumers to look for

I thank Mustaffa for taking the  trouble
to give MTUC's point of  view.
Unfortunately, Mustaffa did  not take the
opportunity to explain  why Malaysians
were so unconvinced by the chicken boycott.

He described as “trivial'' the  case of
Selangor MTUC assistant  secretary K.
Somasundram who  was found treating his
daughter to  chicken nuggets at a
Kentucky  Fried Chicken outlet.

It maybe be trivial to the MTUC  but for
many Malaysians it was  symbolic of the
entire boycott   showing lack of support
and confidence.

The intention by MTUC and Cuepacs to raise consumer issues is  commendable. Like unionism, consumerism is
not the monopoly of  consumer

Instead of calling for boycotts, it 
would be better if unions can come 
up with alternatives. With combined resources, they could perhaps go
into food production for its 

It could also find ways for members to buy chicken or fish at better rates than
those at wet markets.

Both unions could also work with 
co-operatives and organic farms to 
sell their produces direct to members. They could also work with  fish-rearers to beat the price rise.

A factory in Penang, for example, has encouraged its workers to  plant vegetables during their free time. The
result is that at the end of  the month,
they go home with their  wages and free

With its strong network, both  unions
could encourage factories to  adopt the
same approach.

The days of union rhetoric is  over. The
public and members  want to hear real
alternatives and  solutions.

Before it proceeds with its move  to
boycott fish, it should seriously 
consider whether Malaysian consumers will swallow hook, line and  sinker what it preaches.

There is no doubt that fish is  more
expensive than chicken but it  is still
at a tolerable level if a consumer cooks at home. Fish dishes  at restaurants are exorbitantly  priced, needless to say.

But fish prices vary greatly, depending on locality and outlet (hypermarket or
wet market).

Price comparison, as anyone who  has done
any marketing will tell  you, can be
grossly unfair and incorrect.

At this point, the proposal to boycott fish sounds, well, fishy. On a  scale of one to 10, it looks like both  unions are fishing in troubled waters again.

So, what is their bone of contention?

The MTUC and Cuepacs should  reconsider
their decision to call for  a fresh round
of chicken boycott,  which it said will
be longer and  more systematic.

They have also said that a campaign would be carried out to boycott imported
rice and traders who  cheat consumers and
increase  price indiscriminately.

This time, the unions must make  sure
their officials do not buy fillet o-fish at McDonald's.