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LETTER | Operating businesses during MCO must be classified as offence

Charles Hector

Published

LETTER | We, the 29 undersigned groups, organisations and trade unions are appalled that it seems that it is no longer an offence for companies/businesses not providing essential services to continue to operate during this movement control order(MCO) to check the spread of Covid-19.

It not only defeats the intention of the movement control order (MCO) in place in Malaysia since March 18 it also places hundreds of workers at serious risk of contracting this disease that causes death and which also puts their families and others at risk.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in Malaysia taking necessary drastic actions to get people to stay at home, practice social distancing and for all business premises, save those providing selected "essential services" to close during this MCO period.

However, there appears that many companies/businesses that are not on the list of essential services are continuing to operate all over Malaysia including glue factories, furniture factories and wood product factories and many others.

When it was highlighted recently, the government stopped Heineken from operating even though it could be argued it fell within the list of essential services but a sincere government interested in the safety of the people ought to not simply exempt companies/businesses for any other reason save for those listed as providing essential services.

Exemptions by government should not be simply given. Note also the new regulations, that replaces earlier regulations have not just reduced the list of essential services but have also not added any new items to the list, like wood industries that earlier was allegedly granted exemptions.

On April 4. Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was reported as saying that over 4,000 people have been arrested by the police thus far during the ongoing movement control order (MCO) with nearly 1,500 charged in court. However, what is odd that we do not hear of many companies/businesses being charged for wrongly continuing to operate during the MCO.

As far as businesses and companies are concerned, at the beginning of the MCO, we read about action taken against a construction company who allegedly violated the MCO but there were no directors or managers charged and the company seems to have not been charged for breaking the regulations made under Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988. Since then, we have not heard about businesses and/or companies being charged.

However, after the first MCO ended and the second MCO began, new regulations had to be made, and so it was done - Prevention And Control Of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within Infected Local Areas) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (PU(A) 109/2020.

What is glaringly absent from the new regulations that are in effect from April 1 until April 14 is the absence of the same or similar Section/Regulation 5 in the old regulations, which means that now it may no longer be an offence for companies/businesses which do not provide essential services or "have obtained the permission of the director-general of health" to continue to operate. Hence, businesses operating against the MCO would likely not be able to be prosecuted or charged for doing so as there is no clear offence in law.

It gives the impression that the Malaysian government may have elected to protect businesses/companies and their directors, managers, etc, which is totally odd and most questionable.

Despite the raising of this failing in public space, no amendment to the regulations has been gazetted that would make it an offence for businesses, not allowed to operate to continue to operate during the MCO.

Note that when such a business/company continues to operate, workers have no choice but to return to work – for a failure to work may mean termination and loss of a job.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yasin’s coalition government, known as Perikatan Nasional, that came into power at the beginning of March but not after a general election, is a loose coalition of political parties and independent members of Parliament (MPs) and doubts still linger whether the new PM still enjoys a majority of support amongst the MPs.

This could be a factor as the loss of support of even a few MPs could result in a collapse of this government. As such, it may be difficult for the government of the day to deny a request for MCO exemption for businesses made by some of these MPs and/or their political parties for fear of loss of support.

It is hoped that such political and other considerations will not defeat the primary intentions of the MCO to combat the spread and overcome Covid-19 that threatens every human life in Malaysia, including workers and their families, who are forced to leave homes to go to work when such exemptions are granted.

When an employer company/business not on the current list of essential services applies for exemption, workers ought to have the right to be heard before exemptions are granted.

Even after exemptions are granted, workers ought to justly have the right to appeal the decision of the DG or minister of health, failing which they do have a legal right to challenge any such government decisions in court by way of a judicial review.

However, because of the MCO and its restrictions, including the closure of law firms and the diminished operations of the courts at this time, it is very difficult, for workers and/or their trade unions to even mount these appeals and/or challenges in court these "exemptions". The right for workers to exercise their legal right to picket is also denied at the moment.

Therefore, we

- Call on the Malaysian government to immediately amend the Prevention And Control Of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within Infected Local Areas) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (PU(A) 109/2020 to clearly make it an offence for companies/businesses to operate in violation of the law during this MCO period;

- Call on the Malaysian government to also subsequently investigate and prosecute all who wrongly granted permission and/or "exemptions" that led to such companies/businesses, who are not allowed to do so during the MCO period, to operate, irrespective of whether they are currently ministers, director- generals, members of the cabinet or state executive councillors;

- Call on the Malaysian government, all ministers and state/local governments to put aside all political and/or economic considerations during the MCO period, in the interest of safety and health of all in Malaysia as we battle Covid-19.;

- Call for the immediate publication and gazette of the list of all companies/businesses allowed to operate during the MCO by reason of exemption by the Ministry or DG of Health;

- Call for the immediate release of all workers who were sentenced to jail simply for working as instructed by their employer.


The above is endorsed by the writer and Apolinar Tolentino for and on behalf of the following 29 groups:

WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)

Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC)

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor(PSWS)

Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region

Madpet (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Aliran

National Union of Banking Employees (Nube)

Kesatuan Sekerja Industri Elektronik Wilayah Selatan, Semenanjung Malaysia (KSIEWSSM)

National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam)

Network of Action For Migrants in Malaysia (Namm)

Women Against Rape, United Kingdom

Labour Behind the Label, United Kingdom

Global Women’s Strike, United Kingdom

Legal Action for Women, United Kingdom

Payday Men’s Network, United Kingdom

Payday Men’s Network, USA

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

Sabah Women's Action Resource Group (Sawo)

Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike, United Kingdom

International Black Women for Wages for Housework.

Cement Industry Employees Union (CIEU)

Malayan Technical Services Union (MTSU)

Ministry of Forestry Union (MFOU)

PKNS Employees Union (PKNS)

Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU)

Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia (TEUPM)

Timber Industry Employees Union of Sarawak (TIEUS)

Union of Construction Industry Employees (UECI)

Union of Forestry Employees of Sarawak (UFES)

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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