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Mobilise more resources to support frontline health workers

The government should also reform labour laws and protect civil servants' right to collective bargaining


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The Labour Law Reform Coalition is appalled to learn that many healthcare workers were exhausted at the front line without sufficient staff and equipment. Some doctors even tendered resignations and left the battleground during this health crisis.

While we applaud various civil society initiatives to donate funds and equipment to Covid-19 hospitals, we believe the government has not yet mobilised the necessary resources to back up the healthcare workers to alleviate the enormous pressures on their shoulders.

Article 4 of the Emergency Ordinance, gazetted on 14 January 2021, clearly stated the Agong may demand any resources to be used for any purpose deemed necessary, including human resources, facilities and utilities. The government should fully use this provision to mobilise the whole society’s resources (mengerah tenaga seluruh masyarakat) to fight this battle, which has taken the lives of 7,902 Malaysians.

Healthcare workers from private hospitals and general panels, retired doctors and nurses, and medical and nursing students at universities and colleges, should be mobilised to support the fight.

Manufacturing facilities that have the capacity to produce oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment and patient beds should be temporarily acquired to produce the necessary equipment.

Unemployed workers should be hired to provide administrative support for vaccination drives.

[All this can be done] as long as the compensations are provided in accordance with the ordinance.

The government should also not hesitate to contact the international community, including the World Health Organization (WHO) to request necessary support.

When the healthcare workers were forced to voice out their despair anonymously through civil society platforms, it shows a serious breakdown of internal channels in solving the problems facing frontline health workers. The gag order and strict disciplinary action does not help to address the real issue.

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Healthcare workers, just like other workers, need an appropriate instrument to discuss their rights, benefits, safety and health on an equal footing. The government has been denying all civil servants, including healthcare workers, their right to collective bargaining. This is why our healthcare workers resorted to speaking anonymously to prevent retaliation.

As the employer for the hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers, the government must appreciate trade unions’ role as social partners to raise any matter of concerns through an open negotiation process, which is a meaningful avenue to protect workers’ rights and wellbeing during the Covid pandemic.

Given that the Malaysian government has ratified ILO Convention 98 on Collective Bargaining, the government should reform labour laws and protect civil servants’ right to collective bargaining, so that unions in the healthcare sector can hold social dialogues with the health minister from time to time to address their concerns.

N Gopal Kishnam and Irene Xavier are co-chairpersons of the Labour Law Reform Coalition

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