Release picketers representing frontline hospital support staff now!

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The protest earlier today

Aliran is appalled by the arrests of three union officials from the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS), along with two members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), after a peaceful picket in front of the Ipoh General Hospital today.

The arrests were made under the flimsy pretext that the peaceful protesters were obstructing public officials and engaging in an act that could potentially spread dangerous disease to the public at large.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There were only 13 protesters in attendance and all were checked for temperature and maintained the mandatory social distancing during the peace picket.

The real issue here is the long-standing mistreatment of these frontline workers by their employer, Edgenta UEMS.

The union had made multiple police reports and complaints to the Ministry of Human Resources regarding Edgenta UEMS.

Its members had allegedly been subjected to numerous union-busting tactics to weaken and intimidate these frontline workers, including by arbitrarily changing their work hours and shifts without prior consent, transferring them to distant hospitals and forcing them to work longer hours without overtime pay.

What is even more galling is this latest union-busting incident comes at a time when the country is dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

We rightly sing praises and express our gratitude to doctors and nurses who are literally sacrificing their lives on the front lines.

But we must not forget the cleaners who work tirelessly in hospital rooms and corridors, often obscured from public view. They are an integral part of the healthcare system and play a vital role in our fight against Covid-19 by cleaning the Covid-19 wards and facilities. They are also at risk of infection and require adequate protection and support just like the other frontline staff.

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These cleaners, along with other frontline staff, must be acknowledged for their courage and tenacity during these challenging times. The least we can do is respect their rights to collective bargaining and freedom of speech and ensure they receive a living wage. Their grouses with Edgenta UEMS must be given the serious consideration they deserve.

Arresting those who were campaigning for their rights is not the way to show our appreciation to these workers who put their lives on the line during this pandemic.

Aliran strongly urges the authorities to release the five who were arrested immediately and to drop all investigations and charges against them.

Aliran executive committee
2 June 2020
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