Union: Act 342 Amendment Punishes Low-Income Workers

MTUC Penang says low-earning workers who can’t pay compounds for breaching Covid SOPs will be charged in court and may lose their jobs if they are sentenced to prison.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 – The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Penang has joined public opposition to proposed amendments to Act 342 that moot harsher punishments for breaking Covid-19 rules.

The Penang division of the federation of workers’ unions said the proposed hefty fines and imprisonment lacked justification, especially since the government has said that it is preparing the country to enter the endemic phase of living with Covid-19.

“Thus, we are baffled as to why the government has found it appropriate to pursue such exorbitant fines and imprisonment when we are moving towards achieving an endemic status,” MTUC Penang secretary K. Veeriah said in a statement yesterday.

“Given the scale of fines and imprisonment so proposed by the government, the most vulnerable segment of society would stand to suffer as a consequence.”

The Act 342 amendment Bill raises compounds of offences to up to RM10,000 for individuals and RM500,000 for businesses over the breach of Covid-19 rules, such as not wearing face masks or not practising physical distancing. Malaysia’s minimum wage is RM1,200 a month.

The Bill also imposes general penalties upon conviction of up to three years’ in prison, a maximum RM50,000 fine, or both for individuals convicted under Act 342, while businesses face a maximum RM2 million fine.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) again revised its proposed amendments to the Prevention And Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), lowering the compounds for individuals to an RM1,000 limit, the same as in the existing law. 

Maximum fines under general penalties for individuals were also slashed from RM50,000 to RM2,000, while jail sentences were lowered from a three-year limit to two years.

MTUC Penang said the amendment Bill will pave the way for workers with financial constraints to be charged in court and face imprisonment or fines if they fail to pay the issued compound. 

“On this issue, the immediate response ought to be this — if one has, in the first place, no financial means to pay a compound, should such a financially handicapped person face the prospect of languishing in jail and, as a consequence, stand to be dismissed premised upon a failure to report to work?”

Yesterday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the amendment Bill is primarily targeted at repeat offenders and specific cases like the Teratai cluster in Selangor, the largest Covid-19 cluster in Malaysia.

A total of 7,205 Covid-19 cases and one death was reported under this cluster linked to rubber glove manufacturer Top Glove Corporation Berhad.

Khairy said the amendment Bill aimed to punish big corporations that fail to provide proper working conditions for employees, including aspects like their welfare and living space.

Nevertheless, MTUC Penang said that the government should amend the Act to address specific underlying factors that contribute to a rise in Covid-19 cases, rather than proposing blanket punishments for all offenders.

“To propose a sweeping scheme of unjust punitive measures without having regards to the consequential impact on the ordinary citizens is nonsensical.

“In our view the all encompassing scales of punitive measures, especially those which would, unfairly, penalise the ordinary people, ought to be withdrawn.”

The Act 342 amendment Bill will be tabled on December 20 for second and third reading at the Dewan Rakyat, after undergoing further changes suggested by MPs following a meeting by the health, science and innovation special select committee.

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