On 2 June 2020, Malaysian police dispersed a peaceful picket against a hospital cleaning services company. Picketers’ complaints included allegations of unfair treatment of union members and insufficient PPE for cleaners. Five activists were arrested, remanded overnight, and charged for “unauthorised gathering”, violating their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaners did not have access to adequate personal protective equipment when they clean COVID-19 wards and facilities, leaving them exposed to infection. While the PPE situation has improved in most hospitals, the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services, has accused the company of targeting cleaners active in the union by:
· Changing the working schedule of workers active in the union;
· Arbitrarily transferring union members to hospitals far from their place of residence;
· Forbidding union-related discussion between union worksite committees and workers, even during break times;
· Disallowing union members from working overtime to increase their earnings;
Intimidating and threatening union members with disciplinary action.
In January 2020, the union filed a trade dispute case for union-busting, but the court hearing was postponed due to the pandemic. On 3 June, the company released a statement denying all allegations put forth by the union. However, legal representatives of the union stand by their original allegations.
We call on the Attorney General to drop all charges against them. Pickets are essential components to the right to association and no one should be prosecuted for peaceful protest.