Social workers and volunteers separate entities — MASW

KUCHING: The Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW) is concerned about the Sarawak government’s decision not to support the proposed Social Workers Bill, on the grounds that the requirement of professionally qualified social workers will “kill the spirit of volunteerism”.

In a statement e-mailed from Petaling Jaya, MASW president Teoh Ai Hua clarified that the roles of a social worker and a volunteer are quite separate entities although in many countries, including Malaysia, they are still being erroneously perceived as one and the same.

He explained that unlike voluntary work, social work is globally recognised as a profession which, like other established professions, has a body of knowledge, values, skills and a code of ethics to guide social work practitioners and educators.

“Malaysian public universities have been producing graduates in social work since 1979. In fact, the social work programme at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) is the second oldest social work programme in the country,” he said in the statement.

He pointed out social workers are referred to as professionals and employed to provide statutory services, for example, in child protection, domestic violence, drugs and substance abuse, criminal offences, health and mental health.

Social workers are also working to promote the well-being of the disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalized in the community which includes the poor, elderly and disabled persons, he added.

He went on to say the drafting of the Social Workers Bill has been strenuously thought out by MASW with the support of the federal Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, Department of Social Welfare, United Nations Children’s Fund, and social work educators from the public universities.

“The Bill seeks to register qualified social workers and regulate social work practice to ensure the best interest of clients and other service users, many of whom are experiencing multi-dimensional and high-risk social situations which demand appropriate and effective professionally competent services.

“The Bill does not intend to regulate voluntary work or ‘kill volunteerism’,” he said, adding various groups of stakeholders have also been consulted for their understanding and feedback since 2010.

On voluntary work, he explained it is an act of charity based on human concern or a religious drive to do good deeds by helping and giving in cash and/or in kind without the requirement for professional qualification.

He pointed out that in many countries, including developed countries where social work is an established profession, voluntary work has always existed and will continue to exist, side by side with social work.

“Whether this is disaster relief work, or visiting hospital patients, or distributing food parcels to disadvantaged groups in the community, the spirit of volunteerism will always prevail.

“In our country and Sarawak in particular, the spirit of helping our neighbours, of reaching out to those in need, has been very much a part of our culture and will continue to be cherished and embraced,” he said.

Teoh was responding to last Wednesday’s Borneo Post report, in which Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem announced that the state would not adopt the proposed Social Workers Act 2012 if the bill is passed in Parliament.

Adenan, who spoke during Azam (Angkatan Zaman Mansang) Sarawak’s 31st anniversary luncheon, pointed out that such a requirements “could kill the spirit of volunteerism” in the state, if social workers are required to have the necessary academic qualification.

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