Women’s rights coalition: Drop charges against five activists arrested picketing outside Ipoh hospital

Five activists were charged at the Magistrate Court in Ipoh for defying the CMCO by gathering at HRPB, June 4, 2020. — Pictures by John Bunyan
Five activists were charged at the Magistrate Court in Ipoh for defying the CMCO by gathering at HRPB, June 4, 2020. — Pictures by John Bunyan

IPOH, June 4 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) today urged the police to abandon its decision to charge five National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS) members, who made a last-ditch bid to stand up for their rights in a legitimate industrial picket in front of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun (HRPB) here.

The group in a statement said that the police’s decision to charge the five individuals despite failing to obtain a four-day remand is a clear attempt to silence the union from voicing serious worker grievances against their employer, Edgenta UEMS Sdn Bhd.

“Instead of charging them at court, the police should allow for an industrial action to hold Edgenta UEMS accountable for anti-worker industrial relations practices and vicious union busting tactics,” the group said.

“The arrest of five picketers epitomized 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,” it added.

All five were charged at the Magistrate’s Court here earlier today for defying the conditional movement control order (CMCO) by gathering in front of HRBP for the rights of the government hospital cleaners.

The five were NUWHSAS executive secretary M. Sarasvathy, 67, who is also a Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) committee member; NUWHSAS officials L. Danaletchumi, 35 and V. Santhiran, 52; PSM member P. Jody, 61; and PSM activist C. Subramane, 60.

JAG said that NUWHSAS explained that its 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.

“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 (SOP) required of Covid-19 work area were adhered to,” it said.

JAG said that it is very concerned about the apparent indifference to the safety of hidden frontline workers, such as hospital cleaners, who put their lives at risk.

“The risk they are willing to take are further amplified with the lack of proper PPE equipment, particularly, with an inadequate supply of face masks and gloves, when they clean Covid 19 wards and facilities,” the group said.

JAG also said that it views Edgenta UEMS’ action to deny the special government allowance of RM600, which is meant for frontliners, to the hospital cleaners as immoral.

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

“It was shocking to learn from the union that a 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.

“We remind Edgenta UEMS that it must instead set an example of a responsible employer and not be solely profit driven,” the group added.

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