Prioritise workers’ health now or pay future price, employers told amid prolonged haze

A man rides on a motorcycle in the haze in Putrajaya September 17, 2019. — Reuters pic
A man rides on a motorcycle in the haze in Putrajaya September 17, 2019. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 ― With no end in sight for the recurring haze season, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) have urged employers to take a more proactive role in ensuring that their workers’ health is not adversely affected.

The umbrella body for unions warned that the health effects from inhaling smog and polluted air are not immediately apparent and may only show up later on, even as there are no reports of serious cases yet befalling workers exposed to the haze.

“Your workers may not be going for any medical checkup now, but the effects will come later on. Employers need to check with the local authorities and find ways to protect their workers,” MTUC president Datuk Abdul Halim Mansor told Malay Mail.

“MTUC kindly requests that all companies play an active role in their employees’ health,” he said, adding that companies can take simple steps such as monitoring for symptoms when staff clock in and out, especially those who work outdoors.

“Information sharing is also key, and updating or informing your employees on alerts or precautions sent by the various agencies, notices or any accidents or health concerns they need to be aware of is also greatly appreciated.”

This comes as the Malaysian Employers’ Federation (MEF) said it has not received any complaints of employers experiencing an influx of sick leave from staff due to the haze.

Its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said this may unfortunately be due to the country’s economic state, causing many Malaysians to still want to go to work despite the hazardous air quality levels.

“Fortunately so far there’s been no complaints on absenteeism and we’re thankful for the cooperation given by the employers towards their staff during these trying times,” Shamsuddin told Malay Mail.

“I think probably the economic scenario has a lot to do with it as well. In the sense that if they’re absent or don’t take their jobs seriously, they could lose it especially when the economy is not very encouraging.

“They treasure their jobs more, and are willing to work hard at it despite the bad air. However we do urge all employers to prioritise their employees’ health above all else.”

MTUC also reminded employers not to take advantage of the situation, such as denying workers wage under the pretense of minimising their work hours.

“Workers should not be asked to stay home for the sake of cutting their daily wages,” said MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon.

“It is the employers’ moral and legal obligation to keep them employed. Our union representatives are monitoring this situation closely to ensure no worker is victimised.

“Under the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1994, employers have a duty to protect their employees’ safety and health at work at all times,” he added.

Solomon also urged employers to conduct a risk assessment and implement proper measures to minimise the damage haze does to their employees’ health.

He also suggested for companies to provide ample drinking water at the workplace, buying and supplying proper face masks, and stocking up and teaching their employees how to use respirators.

“The correct type of respirator is one which is capable of filtering out about 95 per cent of very fine particles. Disposable N95 respirators, commonly called N95 masks, are preferable as they are more comfortable than cartridge respirators,” Solomon said.

 “Those prone to lung infection like asthma should not be allowed to work outside. That does not mean you ask them to stay home without pay. Wages must go on under any circumstances.”

Malaysia is suffering from a bout of haze these past few weeks, with several areas in the Klang Valley, Penang and Sarawak experiencing Air Pollutant Index (API) well above 200, that is deemed “very unhealthy”.

Thousands of schools in the country have been ordered to shut down today, while authorities resort to cloud seeding to bring rain, and Putrajaya contemplates on laws to resolve the haze menace once and for all.

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