After picketers arrested outside Ipoh hospital, UEM Edgenta claims alleged union-busting was part of ‘insourcing’ deal

Five officials from the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services' (NUWHSAS) were arrested by police after picketing outside Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh June 2, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Five officials from the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services' (NUWHSAS) were arrested by police after picketing outside Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh June 2, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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IPOH, June 4 — UEM Edgenta Bhd denied today the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services' (NUWHSAS) allegations of anti-union tactics and mistreatment of its members, after five workers were arrested for picketing this outside Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun here Tuesday.

The company published a statement on its websites asserting that the activities that led to the union’s allegations were part of a restructuring stemming from an in-sourcing arrangement by Edgenta Mediserve, which was subcontracted for cleaning services awarded to Edgenta UEMS from January 1.

Edgenta Mediserve is the sister company of the Edgenta UEMS and the NUWHSAS alleged that the changes from the restructuring were a union-busting tactic.

“This is untrue as the decision to insource was discussed within UEM Edgenta (parent company of Edgenta UEMS and Edgenta Mediserve) for a period of time, which was an internal business decision...” the company said.

UEM Edgenta also asserted that the insourcing was purely aimed at improving the quality of service delivery of cleansing in the hospitals and to provide workers with the option of being direct employees with better benefits rather than continue as subcontractors.

Pursuant to the insourcing arrangement, the company said a total of 2,200 cleaners from previous subcontractors including NS Medik Sdn Bhd became direct employees and received a RM100 increase to their base pay.

The company also asserted the change of working hours — which were part of the allegations — were compliant with Section 60A(1)(d) of Employment Act 1955, Amendment 2012 and properly communicated to affected staff via a memo dated February 11.

On the allegations that union organisers were intentionally transferred to locations far from their homes, UEM Edgenta denied this by claiming the incident involved only one worker who agreed to the transfer as the person preferred day shifts due to family commitments.

The company also said Hospital Kampar filed an official complaint against the worker for unsatisfactory performance and asked that the person be replaced.

“We tried to assign the staff at a different shift at the same hospital, but the staff refused to accept it, citing family commitment.

“We then transfer the staff to Hospital Tapah, which is 20km away from Hospital Kampar, and placed the staff in the morning shift as requested. Staff agreed to the transfer and matter had since closed,” the company said.

On allegations that unionised workers were not properly compensated for overtime work, UEM Edgenta also denied this and said all officially-sanctioned work beyond stipulated hours was paid for accordingly.

“Overtime work is based on operational needs and is non-contractual. Only trained staff are selected. The selection criteria are not based on whether they are union or non-union members,” the company said.

UEM Edgenta insisted that its policies were not intended to interfere with union activities so long as these were done outside of work, in accordance with set procedures, and not detrimental to operations at client hospitals.

“During the movement control order MCO) period since mid-March, there are nevertheless protocols for social distancing to ensure safety of hospitals and frontline workers staff, this shall not be confused and taken out of context for accusation of forbidding union activities,” it said.

On the alleged intimidation and verbal harassment of union organisers by Edgenta UEMS’ supervisors, it said it did not have any record of formal complaints but added that such incidents would be investigated appropriately.

UEM Edgenta also denied that unionised workers were intentionally denied personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical face masks and gloves despite having to sanitise Covid-19 wards in public hospitals, saying this was part of a global shortage since the start of the pandemic.

“Nevertheless, company had taken extra efforts to procure PPE to ensure the safety of staff despite significantly higher cost,” it said.

The firm went on to claim that certain benefits, such as transport allowances that the union allege was denied to some of its members, were not universal but discretionary in nature.

UEM Edgenta concluded by insisting that it has remained consistently professional when engaging with the NUWHSAS.

On the arrest of the five picketers, UEM Edgenta insisted that it was not involved as it has no control over how law enforcement authorities treat public gatherings under the conditional movement control order.

What was a minor picket by five hospital cleaners protesting alleged the union-busting and mistreatment on Tuesday drew national attention after they were arrested for allegedly obstructing a public official in the execution of his duty.

The five are expected to be charged today.

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