51 workers, labour groups want Covid-19 recognised as occupational disease under Malaysian law

Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
A man is seen wearing a face mask during the movement control order in Kuala Lumpur March 24, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — A group representing 51 different unions and societies advocating the rights of workers and labourers are calling on the government to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease to allow public assistance in the event of infection or worse.

The group, represented by regional spokesperson Charles Hector, stressed the need to amend laws under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and which would allow those affected by Covid-19 to be entitled to social protection benefits as deemed fit by the government.

“We call on Malaysia and all employers to ensure that occupational safety and health of all workers are always prioritised and protected,” read a statement issued today.

It also pushed for laws compelling employers to provide safe working environments for their staff, saying it should especially apply to those working in essential services and workers who are forced to stay at provided accommodation not knowing if their housemates are infected.

The statement exemplified incidents where migrant workers contracted tuberculosis from their housemates supposedly after being forced to stay at an accommodation provided by their employers.

“While the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the inadequacies in occupational safety and health laws, and also social security laws for workers, it is time to remedy these failings. 

“Therefore we call on Malaysia to immediately make Covid-19 an occupational disease, especially if it is contracted at the workplace, on journey to and from work, and in worker accommodations provided by the employer.

“We call on Malaysia to amend all relevant worker social security law, to ensure appropriate just remedy to workers, their families and, or, dependents especially in the event of death, or disability impacting future capacity to work and, or, earn an income,” read the statement.

The group also called on the government to ensure employers are legally bound to provide a safe environment, including safety from infection via human to human contact at the workplace for diseases like Covid-19.

Among the notable inclusions among the group of 51 signatories are the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), WH4C(Workers Hub For Change), MTUC Sarawak, the PKNS Union, National Union of Flight Attendants (NUFAM).

Also among the signatories were international societies, namely the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region, Myanmar’s Association of Human Rights and Defenders and Promoters, Pakistan’s Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas in Malaysia (AMMPO-SENTRO), the European Rohingya Council, and the Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM).

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