Make Covid-19 an occupational disease under law to ensure workers’ protection

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Image by CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #23312 - Wikimedia Commons

We, the 51 undersigned groups, organisations and trade unions, in response to the advent of Covid-19, an infectious disease that can easily be transmitted to other human persons, including workers, urge the Malaysian government to immediately recognise and make Covid-19 an occupational disease.

By so doing, workers who are infected by Covid-19 at their workplace, even during this period, will become entitled to social protection accorded by social security schemes and laws.

Those who die after getting infected by Covid-19 at the workplace will then be easily entitled to compensation, and their spouses/children/elderly parents will also become entitled to survivor benefits including pensions.

Employers have a duty in law to ensure a safe working environment and will also now be required to ensure that the workplace is safe from Covid-19 or any other dangerous communicable diseases, especially those that can result in death or other permanent disabilities.

With the movement control order in place, which still requires workplaces that provide essential services to operate, workers travelling to and from work and at these workplace are everyday at risk of being infected by the coronavirus, which to date has also resulted in many deaths worldwide. As such, workers need protection, and this can be done by specifically classifying Covid-19 as an occupational disease.

Now, recently even workers in charge of human resources are required to travel and return to their workplaces to arrange the monthly payment of salaries to workers.

Workers who are also needed (or forced) to stay in particular accommodation by employers should also be covered. This also ought to be considered an ‘occupational disease’ and be accorded all the needed social protection.

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While the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the inadequacies in occupational safety and health laws, and also social security laws for workers, it is time to remedy these failings.

One must note, that in the past, there have also been allegations that some workers forced to house together or work together ended up contracting life-threatening ailments like tuberculosis from other workers they were made to stay and/or work with.

All such ailments, not just Covid-19, which can cause death or other disabilities that may affect these workers’ future employment and income, ought to be specifically classified as occupational diseases, and workers should be accorded all benefits under social protection laws.

These laws should apply to all workers, including migrant workers and domestic workers.

In Malaysia, local workers are generally covered by the Employees’ Social Security Act 1969, which provides better protection to workers and/or their families compared to the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952, which generally covers migrant workers. There must be equal protection for all workers, even domestic workers.

For now, the human resources minister can use the powers conferred by sub-section 32(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 [Act 514] and declare that Covid-19 be recognised as an occupational disease. Other changes and/or amendments to law to ensure equal protection to all workers may require Parliament.

Therefore,

  • we call on Malaysia to immediately make Covid-19 an occupational disease, especially if it is contracted at the workplace, during a journey to and from work and in workers’ accommodation provided by the employer
  • we call on Malaysia to amend all relevant workers’ social security law to ensure appropriate just remedies to workers, their families and/or dependents especially in the event of death or disability affecting future capacity to work and/or earn an income
  • we cCall on Malaysia to ensure that employers are legally bound to provide a safe working environment, including safety from infection from human-to-human contact at the workplace for diseases like Covid-19
  • we call on Malaysia and all employers to ensure that the occupational safety and health of all workers is always prioritised and protected
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Charles Hector
Apolinar Tolentino

For and on behalf of the following 51 groups:

  1. Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)
  2. Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC)
  3. Clean Clothes Campaign Network (CCC)
  4. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region
  5. Labour Behind the Label, United Kingdom
  6. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  7. National Union of Transport Equipment & Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAW), Malaysia
  8. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
  9. Timber Industry Employee Union Sarawak (TIEUS)
  10. Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
  11. North South Initiative (NSI)
  12. Kesatuan Sekerja Industri Elektronik Wilayah Selatan, Semenanjung Malaysia (KSIEWSSM)
  13. Sarawak Banking Employees Union
  14. Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Sarawak
  15. Malayan Technical Services Union
  16. Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia
  17. Malay Forest Officers Union
  18. PKNS Union
  19. Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union
  20. National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam)
  21. Legal Action for Women, United Kingdom
  22. Global Womens Strike, United Kingdom
  23. Malaysian Automotive Industry Workers Union Federation
  24. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  25. National Union of Banking Employees (Nube)
  26. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
  27. Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, United Kingdom
  28. Association of Human Rights and Defenders and Promoters – HRDP (Myanmar)
  29. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), India
  30. Maruah, Singapore
  31. IMA Research Foundation, Bangladesh
  32. Legal Awareness Watch (LAW), Pakistan
  33. Asociación de Trabajadoras del Hogar a Domicilio y de Maquila–Atrahdom, Guatemala
  34. Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (Pacti), India
  35. Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), Pakistan
  36. Onward Consulting, Malaysia
  37. Women of Colour Global Women Strike, United Kingdom
  38. Payday, United Kingdom
  39. Women Against Rape (UK)
  40. Bangladesh Group Netherlands
  41. International Black Women for Wages for Housework
  42. International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, UK
  43. Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas in Malaysia (Ammpo-Sentro)
  44. European Rohingya Council
  45. women with visible & invisible disabilities (WinVisible)
  46. Campaign Abiti Puliti (Italian CCC)
  47. Collectif Etique sur l’etiquette, France
  48. Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM)
  49. Gender Alliance for Development Center, Albania
  50. Sudwind, Austria
  51. Radanar Ayar Association, Myanmar
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