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Why Covid-19 needs our undivided attention

Photograph: Alec Wilson, Wikimedia Commons

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Employers must be compassionate and give priority to the welfare of their workers during this critical period, says Mustafa K Anuar.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about heightened fear and concern among Malaysians, especially when the reported number of people infected by the virus in the country has spiked in recent times.

Efforts made by the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Health and its frontline personnel to address this pandemic in a systematic manner have so far been commendable.

What is also worrying is the huge impact of the pandemic on the soft local economy in the context of a global economic slowdown, particularly the tourism industry that has been badly hit amid travel bans imposed by many countries in an effort to stem the tide of the virus. The tourism industry has already recorded a loss of RM3.4bn for January and February.

As a result, the local aviation industry is also badly affected as shown by the 63% of Malaysia Airlines flights being cancelled and some 70% of flights cancelled in the case of AirAsia and Malindo Air.

The severely reduced air travel, in turn, has seen 13,000 employees of Malaysia Airlines Berhad being asked to take unpaid leave. The company has instructed all its employees to take three months of unpaid leave or five days of unpaid leave each month, for a minimum of three months, starting April.

In other words, in the next few months, these workers will be left with much less cash in hand at a time when the cost of living has been high. There are obviously mouths to feed, children to be sent to school, and bills to be paid.

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Mind you, we haven’t even talked about the problems of employees of other Malaysian-based airlines, and workers in other sectors of the economy.

It is, however, welcome news that Malaysia Airlines will not retrench its staff at this point or would only lay them off as a last resort. In this regard, concerted efforts ought to be made by the authorities and other related parties to find ways to help tide these hapless employees over these trying times.

Thus, to single-mindedly wage a campaign at this juncture to impose Sharia-compliant attire for flight attendants, as Deputy Women and Family Development Minister Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff has recently shown, can only be read as being irresponsible at best and insensitive to the welfare of the airline employees at worst.

Such a ministerial attitude can also be interpreted as diversionary, given that the welfare of these employees is in the balance and requires focused attention and the urgent action of the authorities. Their wellbeing clearly is a priority.

Siti Zailah should instead be concerned about whether kids of these families would be adequately clothed over the next few months, apart from being concerned about food and other basic requirements.

As the National Union of Flight Attendants (Nufam) president Ismail Nasaruddin rightly pointed out, this is not the time to talk about how flight attendants should dress and appear in public.

And while we are still on the subject of dressing, it is incumbent upon us all to be mindful that while it is nice to see people dressed well and, possibly, modestly, we should not, however, be judgemental about people solely based on their dressing.

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After all, Shakespeare would tell you in his play, Macbeth, that appearances can be deceptive. In other words, a person can be dressed decently and yet be complicit in activities that can only be considered grossly unethical, if not sinful.

Dressing aside, the welfare of workers should be a priority to the authorities concerned following the onslaught of the Covid-19 virus in the country and elsewhere.

The economic woes of the people are equally menacing. Their vulnerability has worsened.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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