Employers must think of their workers’ welfare during pandemic

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Sketch by Aliran member Wong Soak Koon

Employers should show more compassion for their employees until we can slow down the pandemic, writes Barathi Selvam.

Humankind is battling for survival as the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic has resulted in 339,712 cases with a death toll of 14,704 around the world.

Declared as an uncontrollable disease by the World Health Organization (WHO), our concerns and preventive measures must be practical instead of relying on the lackadaisical attitude of “let’s wait and act”. The negligence and delayed response by, for instance, the Italian government has resulted in a catastrophe for its people.

Our Ministry of Health has strongly recommended the “flattening-the-curve” approach, which has been successful in containing the pandemic in certain countries. This approach involves three major practices: self-hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantine.

Apart from the first step, the other two would be hardly possible without the approval of employers, especially in an environment which requires the working masses to make their ends meet through any means necessary.

Some segments of the working classes have often been exposed to dangerous working conditions eg construction workers whose basic safety needs are usually overlooked.

This is not the time to test the water while waiting for eruptions.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said recently we may have to brace ourselves for at least a year before the pandemic is completely contained. Leaders around the world have expressed similar concerns. Many of them have barred public gatherings and shut down schools, colleges, universities and bars.

Despite the severity of the global pandemic, Malaysian employers in the early stages appeared to speed up instead of slow down their activities. They only resorted to a temporary shutdown when cases of coronavirus were confirmed on their premises.

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The capitalist mentality, thickened by too much profit accumulation, manifested itself again when some employers sent their workers home with wage deductions. That was another revelation that this system is not structured to help the common masses, but to protect, serve and accumulate wealth for the rich and powerful individuals around the world, ie the 1%.

Such insensitive acts risk multiplying the number of patients and putting the masses into more risk, as they will be forced to seek other sources of income.

Many people have spent much of their lives coping with marginalisation, oppression and exploitation at the hands of rich elites and powerful corrupt politicians. Though the coronavirus is colour-blind and disregards social status, ordinary people are vulnerable as they do not have the power or privilege to decide their fate unlike their employers.

Let us appeal for good sense to prevail among employers before it is too late. Employers should show more compassion for their employees until we can slow down the pandemic and eventually drive out this virus.

Ilaiya Barathi Panneerselvam is disturbed by the social injustices he sees around him and uses writing as a medium to advocate for the oppressed and those who face discrimination.

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Johnson Chong
Johnson Chong
2 Apr 2020 3.48pm

Without any business and no help coming from the government how to be compassionate to the workers. Employers have family too and got mouth to feed. I am in the one of the essential services business but some of my staff refuse to work fearing got infected. With this kind of selfish altidude do you think employer can still feel compassionate for them. It is not neccesary employees are always the victim and employer are the culprit. We pay them for the services and they should be responsible in their job. There are no free lunch in the world.