Union wants justice for hospital cleaners

A company in charge of cleaning services at a hospital has denied claims made by a union and says it has offered better terms for workers. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A national union for hospital cleaners is claiming that a government-linked subcontractor, Edgenta UEMS Sdn Bhd,, which was hired to manage cleaning at public hospitals, is exploiting workers.

M Saraswathy, from the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS), who is now facing charges for picketing during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) last week, said: “The management took advantage (of the MCO). Instead of taking care of their workers, they harassed them and their main motive is to kill the union.”

Speaking during an online discussion about workers’ rights during Covid-19, organised by the FreedomFilmFest, she claimed that during this time, the company had failed to provide cleaners with an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Despite that, she claimed the workers were asked to clean the toilets and hospital wards. She said cleaners had also complained of a much higher workload.

Added to this, Saraswathy said the union had been unable to physically engage with its members to resolve their issues due to movement restrictions.

Members of the NUWHSAS had protested outside Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun (HRPB) in Ipoh last Wednesday claiming that they had been subjected to intimidation and union-busting since early this year.

Following the protest, five of those who picketed were arrested by police and have been charged under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 as well as Section 186 and 269 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

Parent company UEM Edgenta Berhad, in a statement, denied the claims, stating that it had implemented actions and safety measures to safeguard the health and safety of its employees to face the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The company is also committed to resolving internal matters impacting its employees in an amicable manner by also engaging the relevant authorities, such as the Labour Department, whenever required,” the statement said.

It denied union-busting allegations, saying its operating model had allowed for better terms to be offered to the workers. It said their basic salary was increased to RM1,200 per month from RM1,100 from January 2020.

It said the matter had also been referred to the Industrial Court but that proceedings had been postponed due to the MCO.

The company said it had formed an internal task force to review the allegations made by the union and staff and that, if true, action would be taken against the supervisors concerned.

During the online discussion today, Saraswathy claimed the arrest of the five union members was “wrongful” as they had followed SOPs, including social distancing.

She said the union had asked the government to recognise hospital cleaners as essential frontline workers and absorb them into the government, instead of “washing their hands” off the matter.

“They (the government) should not allow these frontliners to be victimised by their contracts.”

She also said Edgenta UEMS Sdn Bhd must stop union-busting activities and intimidating or harassing the workers.

“We want UEMS, the health ministry and the human resources ministry to engage with the union to resolve the issue. The government has to call for a meeting and we have to settle it.”

She said if the problems continued, the government should cancel its contract with the company.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Edmund Bon said the contract system meant that the cleaners would not enjoy the same benefits as someone employed as a permanent staff member at a hospital, such as some doctors and nurses.

“They would lose their seniority,” he said. This meant that a worker who had been working for years could be rehired as a new employee, losing out on salary increments and benefits.

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