‘Nothing spared in glove factory probe’

Stringent measures: Health officials getting the Top Glove workers in Meru ready to be sent to hospital. — KK SHAM/The Star

PETALING JAYA: The Labour Department has been told to completely focus on probing working and housing conditions at Top Glove factories to contain the outbreak of the nations’s most active Covid-19 cluster, said Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan.

The National Security Council (NSC) deliberated on the importance of containing the cluster comprising foreign workers at the world’s biggest rubber glove producer and decided that the government departments must go “full force” to stop the spread, he told The Star.

“We are not merely sending a team to check on the conditions at Top Glove. It will be the entire Labour Department.

“We will complete everything within a week and will put everything in black and white.

“This is a matter of life and death of vulnerable workers, which must be contained now itself – no two ways about it, ” said Saravanan.

Top Glove currently employs over 21,000 workers nationwide.

It has 28 factories in Klang alone, the epicentre of the Teratai cluster.

On Nov 23, the NSC decided Top Glove must close its factories in stages after Covid-19 was found breaching the worker’s circle.

The cluster first emerged on Nov 7 and now has 4,036 cases. From the total, over 80% are foreign workers.

Saravanan, who visited the plant days ago with Labour Department officers, said the workers’ housing conditions were deplorable.

“Top Glove must adhere to NSC instructions and close down its factories in stages.

“We have started investigations and will spare no one if they were found to have flouted labour laws.

“I have visited the hostels and the conditions are terrible. My officers were ordered to go in full force as this is a big, vulnerable migrant workers colony. If we don’t act, this cluster might get out of control.

“The Labour Department will ensure the employers are held responsible for worker conditions and dire action will be taken according to the law, ” said Saravanan.

In photos and video clips from the minister, the hostels seem to be crowded and unsanitary.

In July, a US import ban was placed on two Top Glove subsidiaries by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over allegations of forced labour.

In reply, on Oct 24, Top Glove said it has resolved issues highlighted by the US Department of Labour (DOL).

Top Glove stated that it was looking for a quick reverse on the ban via remediation payments to its workers over their recruitment fees on a monthly basis, starting August and expected to finish on July 2021.

International Trade and Industry Ministry deputy secretary-general (trade) Datuk Seri Norazman Ayob said firms in Europe and US now emphasise issues like sustainability, labour rights and the environment.

“Malaysian firms wishing to access such markets, they will have to prioritise managing these issues, ” said Norazman, who was also the Malaysian chief negotiator for the biggest free trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ratified by Asean last week.

There was some concern among rights groups that the current negative situation over labour rights may also downgrade Malaysia’s global human rights ranking as the country is currently on the Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

In June last year, The Star reported that the US State Department placed Malaysia on the Tier 2 Watch List in its latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The annual report said the Malaysian government did not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but was making significant efforts to do so.

Countries on Tier 2 are those that do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.

The Tier 2 Watch List is similar to Tier 2, but with three more criteria, including failure to give evidence of increasing efforts, or where victim numbers are significant or increased.

The report said efforts made by Malaysia included convicting slightly more traffickers, issuing a significant number of passes for victims’ freedom of movement from shelters and establishing additional shelter for adult female trafficking victims, though it had not yet served victims.

In the 2017 TIP report, Malaysia was upgraded to Tier 2 from the Tier 2 Watch List but slipped back in the Watch List last year.

Between 2006 and 2018, Malaysia was classified on Tier 2 Watch List nine times.

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