THE Young Lawyers’ Movement (YLM) takes note of the movement-control order (MCO) 2.0, which came into effect today. Based on previous experience during MCO 1.0, there were complaints of young lawyers being forced to take salary cuts unilaterally and incidents of forced resignations as a measure by firms to cut costs and lower overheads.
YLM regrets that such actions happened and urges law firm owners to protect the livelihood of their associates and pupils in chambers under their employment and apprenticeship respectively. Associates and pupils pledged allegiance, fidelity and service to the firms they served, hoping to build a long and successful career ahead of them. We hope that none are victimised in an attempt to lower the firms’ overheads.
The right to seek and be engaged in lawful and gainful employment is an implied constitutional right under Article 5(1) of the federal constitution as per the case of Tan Tek Seng v Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Pendidikan; Anor  1 MLJ 261. Lawyers as the footsoldiers of the constitution must uphold the supremacy of the constitution and not disregard fundamental liberties enshrined under the supreme law of the land.
Retrenchment should also be a last resort by firms and firms should adhere to the principles of “last in first out” and all other cost-cutting measures be made first before resorting to retrenchment.
Other cost-cutting measures by firms can be taken instead such as the freezing of purchasing new assets (company car, furniture and office equipment) and freezing allowances to firm personnel as we now embrace the work from home culture.
YLM urges all young lawyers who are under a contract of service to take up their disputes to the Industrial Court on grounds of constructive dismissal should a fundamental breach of their employment contract occur such as forced salary cuts, unpaid wages or forced resignations.
A legal assistant (LA) under a contract of employment falls within the definition of “workman” as described in Section 2 of the Industrial Relations Act as decided in the case of Shamesh Jeevaretnam v Ram Rais & Partners  LNS 0219. The Industrial Court remains an avenue of complaint for aggrieved LAs in this situation. Pupils who have commenced their pupilage with the firm have a legitimate expectation to see through their pupilage with the firm and should not be asked to leave the firm as a cost-cutting measure. Pupils should not have their allowance cut unilaterally as well. Young lawyers must unite, organise and help one another in these difficult times. YLM commits to the cause of combating exploitation and unfair labour practices.
YLM will support young lawyers who are victimised in their pursuit for justice in their own respective case.
Solidarity for the working class lawyer!!! – January 13, 2021.
* This statement was issued by the Young Lawyers’ Movement.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.