A Student-led Struggle against Injustice

by Joey Ho

They spoke such sweet promises. Did we believe them? Yes, because our future was in their hands. It turned out that they were just playing with us, and their words changed as a ball goes back and forth. Hear the truth, from the perspective of the ones lied to.

In year 2017, the Allied Aeronautics Training Centre (AATC) promised all their students that we would get loans from PTPK (Perbadanan Tabung Pembangunan Kemahiran , or the Technical Development Fund Institution). We students got confused because we never signed any loan form from PTPK. Every time students tried to raise the issue, the marketing team from Allied tried to convince us to focus on our studies, claiming that there was no issue from the PTPK.

In the early of year 2019, AATC revised their agreement, stating that our course fees had been dropped from RM89,000 to RM77,000. Meanwhile RM10,000 from the RM77,000 needed to be paid by students in the form of on-the -job training before they graduate. The students were forced to sign the agreement within an hour without any consultation with their parents. A few weeks after that, Allied offered a student study loan from i-Affin with 7.95% interest and claimed that the PTPK loan application has failed because of “political issues”.

Hence, Yagesh, who would later become the chairperson of AATCSU, contacted Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)for help. About eight of his friends held a small meeting in PSM headquarters with Sharan Raj. Beforehand, some students and parents asked other political figures including Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching.

These political parties advised them to make police reports. Certain political parties blamed the students and parents for not doing their research properly. Many of the students who went to meet PSM expected a similar answer. Sharan Raj from Pemuda PSM advised AATC student unionize themselves to represent students to negotiate with the management of Allied.

Sharan Raj traveled for 2 hours one way each week to attend meetings in Lembah Subang to advise us on setting up a union. The agenda of our weekly meetings was to check on progress and prepare a plan for the next week. Sharan Raj regularly quotes from the book “Art of War” when discussing strategy.

The first town hall that we conducted was a failure because the information did not reach students. Interestingly, Sharan Raj predicted the failure a week before as he mentioned that students do not feel empowered about unionizing. Undeniably, working with Sharan Raj has been vital as he is no-nonsense and has zero tolerance for half-baked work.

Instead of moving forwards, he asked the team to redo the whole town meeting stating the foundation must be correct. A weak foundation will cause the whole union to collapse as we travel further. The correct unionizing work will set the stage for the success of the AATC Student Union (AACTSU) later on.

Subsequently, a second town hall was planned in the following month. Sharan Raj brought Tan Cheng Siong, the chairperson of UTM-MJIIT Voices to share his experience of organizing MJIIT Voices. The second town hall was physically attended by 100 out of 192 students.

We came up with a new working committee which was elected democratically with the support from the students. The working committee became the AACTSU. Sharan Raj was also unanimously voted as advisor of the AACTSU.

Pemuda PSM organized a national meeting with other student movements around Malaysia. Raversh (now the AATCSU treasurer), attended the meeting. Pemuda PSM was still looking after AATCSU’s external relationships. By introducing AACTSU to other student movements, Pemuda PSM provided national-level solidarity that became crucial later on.

AATCSU started working on a formal letter to request a meeting with the management of the AATC. The letter was submitted to the management two weeks after the town hall. Initially, I as the secretary of AATCSU went to handover the letter to the management of AATC. The management refused to receive the letter on behalf of the CEO.

Hence, I called up the advisor and chairperson to come forward. The management was extremely afraid to accept the letter and requested us to meet the CEO in his office. We went straight up to the CEO’s office and met the CEO. The CEO reviewed the letter and gave positive feedback regarding students effort. The CEO promised to give us a stamp indicating receipt of the letter on the next day. The next day, the CEO remained silent when I sent him a message regarding the confirmation stamp.

The following Monday, 26th August 2019, Yagesh and I were called to collect dismissal letters with an unacceptable reason. AATC said both of us did not pay tuition fees. About 90% of AATC students did not pay their fees as the management had yet to provide us with PTPK loans. Yagesh notified the students in the WhatsApp group. Why did only these two students receive a dismissal letter? The students went furious about the management’s attempt at union-busting.

Within matter of hours, 92 students begun to assemble to demand for withdrawal of the dismissal letter and for a meeting date with the management. The unionizing work in the past 2.5 months paid great dividends as students came out in large numbers. The students message was clear: don’t touch our union representatives!

The management refused to negotiate with the two students who got dismissed and kept listening to their lawyers’ advice. The students became very unhappy with management who refused to discuss with us. Hence, members of AATCSU decided to camp out at the management office. At about 5pm, the police arrested Sharan Raj and seven other students including the two dismissed students, under the request of the AATC. The AACTSU activists and Sharan Raj were taken to Kelana Jaya police station.

The intense moments caught the nation’s attention as social media spread the news quickly to every corner of this nation. Immediately after the arrest, nearly 60 AATCSU members camped outside of Kelana Jaya police station demanding for their comrades to be released. The national students meeting attended by Raversh brought solidarity from other students groups. Nearly 30 student activists from other universities and colleges came to show support.

The students movement from the public universities asked the Ministry of Education (MOE) to intervene. The MOE released a statement asking for police to release the students and urging the management to meet the AATCSU. The private university students rang up the OCPD and the Investigation Officer demanding our release.

The arrests and protests caught the attention of this country. Many NGOs and political parties’ youth wings contacted AATCSU offering help. Sharan Raj dismissed all help from right-wing race-based movements as they tried to inject race-based narratives to the AATCSU struggle, in line with Sharan Raj’s strong anti-racism principles.

On 27 August 2019, AACTSU met the NGOs/CSOs including MIC Youth and Angkatan Muda Keadilan (AMK). AACTSU rejected their plan of operation and requested specific forms of help from them. Sharan Raj advised the AATCSU to accept only help that contributed meaningfully to the existing struggle and to avoid being used for their popularity.

The students struggle and protest allowed Arutchelvan (the vice chairperson of Parti Sosialis Malaysia) to press the Ministry Of Human Resources (MOHR) to intervene. The Minister of Human Resources, YB Kulasegaran through Arutchelvan arranged a meeting on the 28th August 2019. MOHR arranged a tripartite negotiation with the management of AATC and the students at Putrajaya.

The tripartite negotiation between 22 AATCSU reps and 5 management of AATC was chaired by YB Kulasegaran himself. The agenda of the meeting was to withdraw the dismissal letter and resolve the demand for the PTPK loans. MOHR forced the management to withdraw the dismissal letter of the two AATCSU activists. MOHR ordered AATC to smoothen the process with PTPK to enable educational loans for the students. AATCSU also requested MOHR to assist in bringing back students that have dropped out to complete their studies.

AATCSU appreciates that YB Kulasegaran intervened on this issue, ending a 3 year-old problem. Special thanks to Parti Sosialis Malaysia who assisted on this issue. Our struggles have not come to an end but though the hardship we have been through we have been tested as diamonds are. It is not easy to conduct such a thing without the correct advice. We grow in progress and our common bond with each other only strengthens as time goes on.

Written By;
Joey Ho,
Allied Aeronautics Training Centre Student Union (AATCSU).

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