The Government Must Demand More Resources to Back-up Healthcare Workers

Press Statement by Labour Law Reform Coalition on 25 July 2021 in Shah Alam

Labour Law Reform Coalition was appalled to learn that many healthcare workers were exhausted at the frontline without sufficient staff and equipment, some doctors even tendered resignations and left the battleground in time of the health crisis.

While we applaud various civil society initiatives to donate funds and equipment to Covid-19 hospitals, we are of the view that the government has yet to mobilise necessary resources to back-up the healthcare workers to alleviate enormous pressures on their shoulders.

The article 4 of the Emergency Ordinance gazetted on 14 January 2021 clearly stated that Yang di-Pertuan Agong may demand any resources to be utilized for any purpose deemed necessary, including human resources, facilities and utilities. The government should fully utilise this provision to mobilise whole society 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, medical and nursing students at universities and colleges, should be mobilized to support the fight. Manufacturing facilities that have capacities to produce oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment, patient beds should be temporarily acquired and produce the necessary equipment. Unemployed workers should be hired to provide administrative support for vaccination drives. As long as the compensations are provided in accordance with the ordinance.

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

In addition, 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 front line healthcare workers. The gag order and strict disciplinary action does not help to address the real issue.

Healthcare workers, just like other workers, need an appropriate instrument to discuss their rights, benefits, safety and health on equal footing. The government has been denying all civil servants including healthcare workers’ 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 well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Given that 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 Minister of Health from time to time to address their concern.

N. Gopal Kishnam & Irene Xavier
Labour Law Reform Coalition