Stop intimidation of victimised frontline hospital workers

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The protest earlier today

After failing to obtain a four-day remand of five hospital cleaners, unionists and their supporters who were arrested on 2 June 2020, the Malaysian police’s intention to go ahead and charge them anyway, today, 4 June 2020, is a clear attempt to silence the union from voicing serious worker grievances against their employer, Edgenta UEMS Sdn Bhd, and we decry this as a blatant manipulation of law enforcement as a tool of repression.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is calling for the Malaysian police to abandon their decision to persecute the five unionists and workers who made a last-ditch bid to claim their rights in a legitimate industrial picket in front of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun (HRPB) on 2 June and instead allow for an industrial action to hold Edgenta UEMS accountable for anti-worker industrial relations practices and vicious union-busting tactics.

The National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS) explained that their decision to hold a peaceful picket was because all other efforts to negotiate with the employer or voice their grievances with the Labour Department had been met with inaction while the health and safety of its members remained in imminent danger, in the current environment of a pandemic.

The union led the picket with 13 workers and their supporters in front of the hospital in Ipoh and had ensured that the standard operating procedures required of Covid-19 work area were adhered to and all preventive measures were taken during the peaceful protest: temperatures were checked and picketers maintained their positions in circles on the pavement so that social distancing was obeyed.

The arrest of five picketers epitomised the high-handed behavior of a repressive state, and we condemned this action especially when the overcrowded conditions of the lock-up where they spent the night did not comply with any Covid-19 preventive measures.

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Those arrested during the picket include NUWHSAS executive secretary M Saraswathy and union officials L Danaletchumy and V Santhiran who were facing charges under Section 186 of the Penal Code for obstructing a public servant in discharge of his public functions as well as Section 269 of the Penal Code which covers unlawfully or negligently committing an act that is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life. They were also investigated under Section 7(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988. Also arrested were supporters of the hospital cleaners, P Jothi and C. Subramaniam @ Raja.

While we join the nation in lauding frontline staff for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, we are very concerned over the indifference over the safety of our hidden frontline workers who are hospital cleaners who are also placing their lives at risk. The risks they are willing to take are further amplified with the lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly with an inadequate supply of face masks and gloves, when they clean Covid-19 wards and facilities.

JAG views the actions of the government-linked employer, Edgenta UEMS, a subsidiary of UEM Edgenta which is a government-linked company owned by Khazanah Nasional, as a blatant disregard for the valuable contributions of women workers to the economy, and we especially find the denial of the special government allowance of RM600 (meant for frontline staff) to these workers as immoral and unbecoming of a concerned government.

We call on the employer, Edgenta UEMS, to desist from its vicious “union-busting” tactics as it is an anti-worker behaviour adopted by errant employers and acknowledge the union, NUWHSAS, who want the grievances of their members to be addressed.

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It was shocking to learn from the union that a Malaysian government-linked company would maintain the employment of workers on a minimum wage of RM1,100 without any annual increment, public holidays or sick leave, and we remind Edgenta UEMS that it must instead set an example of a responsible employer and not be solely profit driven.

As such, we the undersigned, call for the Malaysian police to ditch any attempt to charge the five mentioned above and for the Labour Department to ensure that Edgenta UEMS addresses the grievances that NUWHSAS has highlighted with the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that all staff are paid the special government allowance of RM600 to frontline workers
  • Ensure that all staff are fully geared up with safety equipment like PPE, gloves and face masks for those cleaning especially wards with Covid-19 patients
  • Address the precariousness of their employment status with contracts that entitle staff to an annual increment at rates agreed upon between the employer and NUWHSAS, and this agreement to be binding on any new employer who takes over the contract from Edgenta UEMS, which will ensure the years of service of each employee is maintained in records
  • Ensure that all staff are paid the special government allowance of RM600 to frontline workers.
  • Ensure that all staff are fully geared up with safety equipment like PPE, gloves and face masks for those cleaning especially wards with Covid-19 patients
  • The precariousness of their employment status to be addressed with contracts that entitle staff to an annual increment at rates agreed upon between the employer and NUWHSAS, and this agreement to be binding with any new employer who takes over the contract from Edgenta UEMS, which will ensure the years of service of each employee are maintained in records
  • Staff must be consulted and consent or agreement must be given on changes to their work timetables prior to changes
  • Staff must be consulted and consent or agreement must be given on any proposed transfer of work and not target those who are active in union activities
  • All staff must be allowed to claim and be paid their overtime wages in a timely manner
  • Staff on break time must be free to hold union discussions as this benefits the welfare of workers and will improve morale
  • Union-busting tactics and harassment – such as threatening disciplinary action against union officials, intimidating workers by taking photos when unionists meet workers – by management must cease
  • All staff must be allowed the opportunity to work overtime should they wish to, without refusing, especially union leaders, the chance to earn a little more that the meagre monthly salary
  • Resume the transport subsidy for travel between their homes and work immediately and pay them the back payments of unpaid transport subsidy
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Endorsed by JAG members:

  • Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  • Empower
  • All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
  • Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
  • Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  • Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  • Justice for Sisters
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  • Sabah Women’s Action Resource (Sawo)
  • Tenaganita
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