FMM: Foreign worker tests behind rise in factory clusters

PETALING JAYA: Covid-19 screenings for foreign workers that ended in February have been attributed to factories making up about 60% of new workplace clusters, says the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM).

Its president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said one possible reason for the increase in workplace clusters was the rise in community transmission, especially after the start of the third wave of the virus last year.


“Covid-19 is already within the community with 89% of patients being asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms.

“This is despite the government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus and industries implementing the necessary standard operating procedure and precautionary measures, ” he said when citing a media report in December.

Soh added that it was then made mandatory for foreign workers to undergo Covid-19 screenings, effective last December.

“The mandatory screenings were conducted in phases until Feb 28.

“As a result, we have seen a steady rise in workplace clusters as the screenings were able to pick up more cases among workers, especially those who were asymptomatic, ” he said.

Based on Health Ministry data from Feb 13 to 28, factories contributed to 92 out of 146 new workplace clusters (63%) that emerged in the last couple of weeks.

This is an increase from the period between Jan 28 and Feb 12, where 49% of new workplace clusters were located in factories.

Other notable workplace clusters from Feb 13 to Feb 28 were construction sites (12%), markets and restaurants (8%), public administrative centres (3%) and educational institutions (2%).

Even when including non-workplace clusters such as community clusters, factories still made up 52% of the clusters.

Among the factory clusters, about 47% were located in Johor, while Selangor and Penang made up 34% and 7% respectively.

Soh said FMM had reminded its members to implement proactive measures to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks at the workplace and at workers’ living quarters.

“Among the measures are paying greater attention to workers’ hostels and housing, ensuring compliance with strict SOP, including the requirement for physical distancing in the living environment and imposing such requirements on sub-contract workers.

“We limited the capacity of vehicles or buses ferrying workers to 50% or less to ensure physical distancing.

“We implemented measures such as working in rotations or relocating staff to minimise closure of entire sections. We also appointed a senior management member of the company to oversee SOP compliance at the workplace, ” he said.

However, Soh said there had been difficulty in monitoring and controlling the activities of employees outside the workplace.

Complying with housing standards for workers also proved a challenge as there was acute shortage of accommodation space, he added.

“There is also a lack of centralised living quarters to house workers, and it has been challenging to get approvals from the local councils for the use and conversion of shoplots as accommodation, ” he said.

Soh said there were also strong objections from resident associations and joint management bodies when trying to house workers in residential areas.

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