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Court Orders Police To Release Hospital Cleaners Arrested For Protesting Over Mistreatment

Five hospital cleaners and activists were arrested by the police yesterday, 2 June, for holding a protest against their employer Edgenta UEMS.

Cover image via Twitter @KesatuanPSHK & Socialist Party of Malaysia

A Magistrate's Court has ordered the police to release five hospital cleaners and activists arrested for holding a peaceful protest outside Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital (HRPB) in Ipoh

According to Malaysiakini, Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) secretary general A Sivarajan said the court told the police to release the detainees since they have given their statements.

The police were given until 6pm today, 3 June, to release the five individuals, of which three are members of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services (NUWHSAS) while the remaining two are PSM members.

The five were among a group of ten who protested against their employer Edgenta UEMS, a government-linked company (GLC) under UEM Edgenta Berhad. The company provides facility management services to government hospitals.

They held a protest outside HRPB yesterday, 2 June, before being picked up by police officers.

The group accused Edgenta UEMS of union-busting, not providing sufficient protection for cleaners working in COVID-19 wards in hospitals, and deliberately making cleaners' lives difficult in an attempt to silence them, among others.

The court's decision came after a few Members of Parliament and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) decried the "cruel" detention of hospital cleaners, who are considered as frontliners as well

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said the arrest should not be taken lightly as, "Silencing the voices of frontliners is unfair and cruel, and shows the total lack of respect and care by employers towards those already risking their lives daily to protect the rest of us from COVID-19."

Maria called out Edgenta UEMS for exploiting their employees, saying hospital cleaners employed by them were not adequately supplied with essential protective equipment while working in hospitals that dealt with COVID-19 cases.

In her statement, she also highlighted that Edgenta UEMS employees were barred from union activities and were forced to change working hours and shifts.

Former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman echoed the same in a tweet published today, stressing that "our hospital cleaners are also our frontliners!"

Another report by Malaysiakini noted that NGOs, such as Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Liga Rakyat Demokratik (LRD), and Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN) have all slammed the arrests and demanded the police to release the five individuals.

In a statement made available to SAYS, UEM Edgenta assured that it has implemented actions and safety measures to safeguard the health and safety of its employees

The company denied the accusation that it did not provide sufficient protection to its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"[Our] implementation of safety protocols are aligned with the strict standards set by the Ministry of Health for all hospitals and healthcare facilities in Malaysia treating COVID-19 patients," it said.

UEM Edgenta added that it has various communication channels for employees to "promote effective communications" and stated that it is committed to resolving internal matters impacting its employees.

However, the brief statement did not mention nor deny allegations that it had deployed union-busting tactics to silence its employees.

On Tuesday, 2 June, five hospital cleaners and activists were arrested for obstructing a public servant discharging his duty and risk of spreading an infection during an act:

This is not the first time Edgenta UEMS has been entangled in such a controversy since the Movement Control Order (MCO) began: