Young lawyers are pushing for the Malaysian Bar Association to have a binding minimum wage for chamber students

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 – The Malaysian Bar Association is expected to put in place a binding ruling for law firms to start paying minimum wages to pupils or housing students to protect them from alleged exploitation, instead of introducing it as a guideline that law firms may choose to ignore, a group of young lawyers said today.

Pupils or students in rooms usually undergo a nine-month training course with experienced lawyers, before applying to the court for formal admission to the legal profession as barristers.

Young Lawyers Movement spokesperson Goh Cia Yee said he had raised the same issue of minimum wage for pupils or room students two years ago, and that issue was being raised again because the young lawyers had not yet received what they had asked for.

Goh noted that the Malaysian Bar Association had often cited section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act to underscore its objective of upholding the cause of justice and argued that this should extend to the labor rights justice.

“Well, our position is that justice is not just freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. Justice involves socio-economic justice and labor rights, there must be protection for those rights.

“And the Law Society cannot say it is fulfilling its mission without having done the right thing in ensuring that there is justice within the profession itself. The lens that was used to see outside the profession must be used to see inside,” he told reporters here at Wisma MCA, where the Malaysian Bar Association was holding an Extraordinary General Meeting (AGE).

Goh argued that priority should be given to living entities or individuals over commercial entities, expressing his view that commercial entities would be able to bear an increase in the cost of paying students and that there might be students with family circumstances who could not afford to receive low pay.

While noting that the Malaysian Bar Association intends to introduce a minimum wage, Goh wondered if it would come in the form of guidelines that would not be binding on law firms and which, according to him, would be ineffective compared to a binding decision.

“I think we need something binding, that’s one of the reasons we’re here today, because we don’t agree with what the Malaysian Bar has said,” did he declare.

The two demands made today by the Young Lawyers Movement relate to a direct election of members of the Bar Council to ensure that the views expressed by the Malaysian Bar reflect the views of its members, and for the Malaysian Bar confirms whether minimum student compensation would be through a directive or decision.

Young Lawyers Movement spokesperson Vince Tan speaks during a press conference at Wisma MCA, where the Malaysian Bar Association was holding an EGM, in Kuala Lumpur on May 27, 2022. — Photo by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Vince Tan, another spokesman for the Young Lawyers Movement, said this problem of low student allowance is not new and has been going on for at least a decade because there is no minimum amount set. .

Tan said the young lawyers movement has about 12 people in its core team and more than 150 people in its network or loose coalition of young lawyers, with feedback received from different states showing that the highest stipend for housing students was RM4,000. while the lowest was RM300.

He said there was often a defense of basic human rights and workers’ rights in accordance with international laws, but argued that there was still “systematic exploitation” in Malaysia and that students were not still recognized as employees.

He argued that the Malaysian Bar Association should prioritize the welfare of its members over issues such as the independence of the judiciary, and claimed that progress has been slow on the issue of minimum wages for students.

Saying young lawyers were not seeking publicity or Bar Council positions, Tan said they were highlighting the issue out of necessity and wanted to ‘see things done’ and ‘end the suffering’ faced young lawyers and their peers. .

He also claimed there used to be a culture of fear, but said younger lawyers are now more outspoken in speaking out on this issue.

“We are not here to attack the legal profession or attack the Malaysian Bar, we are here to make things better. It’s constructive criticism.

“We have come up with a proper proposal that this should be implemented, we should not use this excuse that small businesses are not able to afford this as Malaysia has achieved globalization, industrialization, corporatization. This means that the legal profession is not moving with the times,” he said.

Members of the Young Lawyers Movement hold placards during a protest at Wisma MCA, where the Malaysian Bar Association was holding an EGM, in Kuala Lumpur on May 27, 2022. — Photo by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Members of the Young Lawyers Movement hold placards during a protest at Wisma MCA, where the Malaysian Bar Association was holding an EGM, in Kuala Lumpur on May 27, 2022. — Photo by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Khairul Shahrizan, who is the sole proprietor of a law firm with four other lawyers, said at the same event that he was ready as a small business owner to pay RM3,000 per month for accommodation students.

Noting that lawyers must practice for at least seven years before they can take on students, he said: “If you have practiced for seven years and you say you cannot give a student minimum wage, there is a problem. with your business, so you have to review your business, the way you run your business,” he said, urging law firms not to take the easy way out.

He also asked why law firms could not follow suit in setting a minimum wage, when the Malaysian government had the political will to publish the new minimum wage rate of RM1,500.

The group of young lawyers ended the event by briefly shouting slogans of “Hidup peguam muda”, “Tolak exploitasi”, “Bangkit peguam muda“, and “Hidup rakyat”.

Separately, the Young Lawyers Movement also issued a five-page statement explaining its demands and concerns, agreeing for example that the amount of minimum student salary should take into account the views of each state bar, but claiming that the national minimum wage determined by the government should suffice.

The Young Lawyers Movement event was held in opposition to Malaysian Bar President Karen Cheah’s May 21 interview with The Malaysian Insight news portal on the issue of the minimum wage for students.

Among other things, Cheah had pointed out that the minimum stipend rate may differ in different states due to the different cost of living, and that it was necessary to take into account the capacities of small law firms and that students could then be unable to find a place to bedroom if the ladder has been set too high.

Cheah had also said in the interview that the Malaysian Bar Association had proposed an amendment to Section 77 of the Legal Profession Act to the Attorney General’s Chambers to allow the Malaysian Bar Association to have the power to implement the minimum wage. and guidelines within the legal profession, and that the Malaysian Bar Association should find ways to help small law firms to be able to afford the minimum.

Although Tan confirmed that the move did not contact the Bar Council after the interview, he said the young lawyers were still open to communicating with the Bar Council and Cheah herself about the matter.

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