PETALING JAYA,Nov 19: A trade union has urged Putrajaya to recognise hospital cleaners as frontliners in the fight against Covid-19 so they can benefit from the government’s stimulus packages.
The executive secretary of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services, Sarasvathy Muthu, said the workers faced the threat of infection every day and she was surprised the government had not included them in its definition of frontliners.
“Without them, all efforts to curb Covid-19 and flatten the curve will not succeed,” she said.
“Yes, doctors and nurses are very important. But cleaners are directly involved in cleaning, which is something the government always tells people to do.”
Sarasvathy noted that those defined as frontliners had benefited from economic stimulus packages and were also taken care of in the annual budget tabled two weeks ago.
She said hospital cleaners faced many threats to their livelihood, such as a contract system working against them.
The health ministry appoints a new company for the cleaning contract every three years.
“The workers lose all their seniority and benefits because they would become new workers under the new contractor,” she said.
“They must be protected and they must be given their benefits. Otherwise they become bondage labourers.
“In a developed country like Malaysia, cleaners who have worked for more than 20 years must be given fair amounts of remuneration.”
Sarasvathy said their RM1,200 monthly salary was too meagre and claimed that many were living in “deplorable conditions”.
“When they get their salaries, they use up their money by day seven or eight and would have to borrow for their children’s education or even for food,” she said, adding that this was why many of them were always in debt.
“They should not be facing this. They must be given basic living wages so they can live a decent life.”
Last June, members of the union protested outside Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh, claiming they had been subjected to intimidation and union busting since early this year.
The company that holds the contract to supply hospital cleaners, UEM Edgenta Berhad, denied the allegations but said it had formed a task force to investigate them. It promised to act against the supervisors concerned if the claims were found to be true.
She also commented on health ministry secretary-general Dr Chen Chaw Min’s statement earlier that the special Covid-19 allowance for frontliners was only for healthcare officers who were involved in Covid-19 duties, and not meant for healthcare personnel who were not involved in handling Covid-19 patients
Sarasvathy said this was not right as other workers in hospitals also played very important roles in the fight against Covid-19.
“The government must look into giving allowances to cleaners.“
She said even though the hiring of hospital cleaners has been privatised, it was still the government’s responsibility to compel the private companies to give them special allowances.
“The union is very disappointed with the statement. The government must not shy away from its responsibility.”