There are many perceptions given to trade union depends on the perspective of the persons who looks in the issues the trade unions are facing. Government, employers, public and political parties may have different perceptions towards trade unions.
Trade Union is defined under section 2 of Trade Unions Act 1959 as any association or combination of workmen or employers, being workmen whose place of work is in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak, as the case may be, or employers employing workmen in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak, as the case may be—
(a) within any particular establishment, trade, occupation or industry or within any similar trades, occupations or industries;
(b) whether temporary or permanent; and
(c) having among its objects one or more of the following objects:
 (i) the regulation of relations between workmen and employers for the purposes of promoting  good industrial relations between workmen and employers, improving the working conditions of
 workmen or enhancing their economic and social status, or increasing productivity;
 (ia) the regulation of relations between workmen and workmen, or between employers and  employers;
 (ii) the representation of either workmen or employers in trade disputes;
 (iiA) the conducting of, or dealing with, trade disputes and matters related thereto; or
 (iii) the promotion or organization or financing of strikes or lock-outs in any trade or industry or  the provision of pay or other benefits for its members during a strike or lock-out;

Leader of a trade union is elected from its members, however, depends on the qualifications of the person to be elected as officers.
The qualification of the officers of trade unions is provided under section 28 of the Trade Unions Act 1959.
28. (1) A person shall not act as a member of the executive of a trade union or any branch thereof, or of any federation of trade unions, and shall be disqualified for election as such member, if—
(a) he is not a citizen of the Federation;
(b) he has not been engaged or employed for a period of at least one year in any establishment, trade, occupation or industry with which the trade union or federation is connected;
(c) he has been a member of the executive of any trade union the registration of which has been cancelled or withdrawn under subparagraph 15(1)(b)(iv), (v) or (vi) or under any law repealed by this Act;
(c1) he is an office-bearer or employee of a political party;
(d) he has been convicted by any court of law of criminal breach of trust, extortion or intimidation, or of any offence which in the opinion of the Director General renders him unfit to be an officer of a trade union; or
(e) he is a bankrupt:

Organisations functioning as unions first emerged in 1920 with the development of estates and tin mines. From 1920s onwards, the Communist Party of Malaysia deliberately set out to develop the labor movement, and thus, it encouraged unskilled to unionise. The next step took by the government to separate the communist influence in the trade union and also any political influence resulted the union movement purely fight for the workers’ conditions improvement. The legislation of Trade Unions Act 1959 is the utmost step to control trade unions and to prevent political party influencing trade unions or to prevent union to give assistance to political party. However, the strength of trade unions in Malaysia is very weak. In 1983, only 15% of workers are unionized and now not more than 10% are unionized. The reasons may be:
        i.            The incompetence of the labour leader
      ii.            The hostility of employers to union
    iii.            Government policies the legislation relating to unions

Fortunately, Malaysia born some influenced leaders of trade unions. The name as PP Narayanan and Dato’ Zainal Rampak are very familiar with trade union in Malaysia and international level.

Leadership may be defined as a position of power held by an individual in a group, which provides him with an opportunity to exercise interpersonal influence on the group members for mobilising and directing their efforts towards certain goals. The leader, at the centre of a group's power structure, keeps the group together, infuses life into it, moves it towards its goals and maintains its momentum. He may emerge in a group by virtue of his personality characteristics and qualities or by virtue of common consent by group members.

Leadership is an influence process. The leader is in a position to shape, regulate control and change the attitudes, behaviour and performance of his group members. In a group, leader and his followers play the roles expected of them and thereby seek to justify their respective positions

The leadership challenge
In practising as leaders they faced many challenges. Among of the challenges are:
1. Employers’ response against unions
There are two problems arise here. Firstly regarding the intention of the employee to join the union. Employees join union for certain reasons: to improve their economic situation, to ensure their rights are protected and for social reasons. Rights to form and join trade union was established under section 5 of Industrial Relations Act. However, under section 7 of the Act workers could not be forced to join trade union. Thats mean the worker who joins union done volutarily. This is a challenge to union leaders to persuade the workers to join in the union.
Secondly, the issue of loyalty of the workers to the employers. Loyalty to the employers will give effects to the union’s membership. The aim of working is to earn income for their life but sometimes they had to choose a better employer which can give their better life in the context of payment, safe and comfortable workpalce and dependacy to their job. Unions is formed according to the ‘same industry’ and if the worker move other industry means their membership will be cancelled. The matter becomes a serious effect when the company restructure their business by forms of outsourcing, mergers & acquisitions, right-sizing and downsizing
The trend will affect the activity of unions and becomes one the challenege of the leaders should face.
2. Unions’ fund is not enough to cary on unions’ activities
Unions could collect money from their members as an entrace fee and monthly subscription. Section 50 of the Industrial Relations Act provides that the fund may be expended for the following objects:
 (a) the payment of salaries, allowances and expenses to officers and employees of the trade union;
(b) the payment of costs and expenses of the administration of the trade union including audit of the account of the funds of the trade union;
(c) the prosecution or defence of any legal proceeding to which the trade union or any member thereof is a party, when such prosecution or defence is undertaken for the purpose of securing or protecting any right of the trade union as such or any right arising out of the relations of any member with his employer, or with a person whom the member employs;
(d) the expenses incurred in the settlement of disputes under Part VI;
(e) the conduct of trade disputes on behalf of the trade union or any member thereof provided that such trade disputes do not contravene this Act or any other written law;
(f) the compensation of members for loss arising out of trade disputes involving such members provided that such trade disputes do not contravene this Act or any other written law;
(g) allowances to members or their dependants on account of death, old age, sickness, accidents or unemployment of such members;
(h) the payment of fees in respect of affiliation with, or membership of, any federation of trade unions registered under Part XII, or any consultative or similar body in respect of which permission has been given by the Director General under subsection 76A(1) or the Director General has been notified under subsection 76A(2);
(i) the payment of—
(i) all train fares, other essential transport expenses, cost of board and lodging, supported by vouchers, or such amounts as are laid down by the union;
(ii) the amount of actual wages lost by representatives of trade unions attending meetings connected with or related to the promotion of industrial relations or attending to any matters as required by the Director General in relation to this Act or any regulations;
(iii) expenditure for the purpose of the establishment or maintenance of a federation of trade unions registered under Part XII, or a consultative or similar body in respect of which permission has been given by the Director General under subsection 76A(1) or the Director General has been notified under subsection 76A(2);
(j) the editing, printing, publication and circulation of any journal, magazine, news sheet or other printed literature published by the registered trade union for the advancement of its objects or the promotion of the interests of the members in accordance with its registered objects and rules;
(k) the conduct of social, sporting, educational and charitable activities of the members;
(l) the payment of premia to insurance companies registered in Malaysia as may from time to time be approved by the Director General.
Based on the above provision, there are many activities could be done by unions for the interest of union members, however, unions fund only depends on the membership fee and subscription of the members. MTUC as an association for all trade unions in Malaysia also had received the effect of the lack of money in the unions’ fund. The utmost effect was the sale of their headquarters office in Petaling Jaya. The reason behind this sale is less contribution from union to MTUC and like a chain the problem started from lack of money in the unions’ fund. Unions could not play well in carrying their objectives because of this situation and can be a reason why workers not to join the unions. This is one of the challenge suffered by the leaders of union.
3. Association Problem Among Unions
MTUC is an association which represents the union workers in Malaysia. However, the unions may not sometimes agree with the leaders of MTUC. In 1982, five of the bigger unions disaffiliated from MTUC and then followed by NUBE (National Union  of Bank Employee). In 1998 there was a major disgareement between CUEPACS which represent union in the public sector. In 1994 again the disagreement apperaed in the issue who should represents Malaysia to the international labour Organisation. In 1989, Malaysia labour Organization was formed to be competitor of MTUC. The series of confrontations and disgareement among union leaders is a challenge to union leaders in achieving union onjectives. MLO and MTUC finally merged in 1996.
The lesson from those confrontation is the leadership style of the union leaders. They should have Competence Leadership – should be dynamic, innovative and have strong sense of direction (i.e. forward looking for the future of the union). The Union should has more Public Relations (PR)  to publicize the positive things that Unions do for employees and for society as a whole. Misunderstanding exists when lack of communication.
4. Legislative framework
Even the rights to forms and join unios was conferred under Indsutrial Relations Act , the union must register the union with Department of Trade Union. Te power to accept or to reject the registration fully vested on the hand of Director General of Trade Unions. Thats means the registration is not automatically. This is the first challenge to the leadership in forming the union. Another problem wil be a quite tough challenge for the leaders of unio is to get recognition from the employer. The leaders should make a claim of recognition to the employer, and within a period of 21 days the employer must reply to the claim. If the employer refuse to grant recognition, the union leaders shoul report the matter into Director general of Trade Unions within 14 days for the Director general to take actions in granting recognitions. The situation is a big challenge to the leaders of the union. There are other legislative framework that are the challenges of the leaders such as in striking which is very procedural.

There others challenge in the leadership as in the effect of globalization and new technology. The internet era may a challenge to the leadership. In Malaysia, we also face the problem immigrant workers and they are prevented to join unions. But in fact we have to protect their rights. We also have another challenge to agree with Y generation. They are knowledge workers and typically not interested in trade union. Failure to unionise them, may affect the movement of the trade unions in future. The approach by the companies especially GLC to use Human resources steps by providing better satisfaction workplace also a challenge to the leaders of trade union.

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