By Dominic Tham
AFTER months of denying it had breached health and safety laws, Top Glove was finally charged on Tuesday for failing to provide workers’ accommodation certified by the Labour Department (JTK).
A representative from the world’s largest rubber gloves manufacturer pleaded not guilty to the charge at the Ipoh Sessions court under Section 24D(1) of the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990.
The offences were allegedly committed at 10 different accommodations at Pusat Perdagangan Tasek Mutiara here, between 9am and 1.30pm on Nov 26, last year. If convicted, the company is liable to a fine not exceeding RM50,000.
For a company with a market capitalization of over RM40 bil, thanks to a spike in demand for rubber gloves owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the RM50,000 fine is a drop in the ocean, if the company were found guilty.
Company executive chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai alone took home some RM3.791 mil in salaries and other perks for the financial year ending Aug 2020. The maximum RM50,000 fine works out to around only five days’ worth of his income from the company.
But at stake when Top Glove’s alleged violation goes to trial is not just the small dent the paltry fine will leave on the company’s financial might – that is, if the company is found guilty at all. The company faces intense reputational risk if it cannot vigorously defend its track record in looking after the welfare of its workers who keep its production lines running – and its revenue gushing in amid a global pandemic.
As the company’s profits shot through the roof, Top Glove has come under intense scrutiny over its treatment of its mostly migrant production line workers. The company was accused of putting its workers in horrid living conditions that did not adhere to basic health and hygiene standards.
A whistleblower from the company who first highlighted the appalling working and living conditions in the company was sacked. It was so bad that over 4,000 people linked to the company were infected with COVID-19, making the cluster, named “Teratai”, the biggest ever in the country.
More recently, BBC World Service, a UK-based radio service with a global following, had reported that Top Glove continued to allegedly flout labour laws, including forcing its workers to put in extra long hours and prevent them from leaving the factory premises.
Its workers, mostly foreigners, were reportedly not allowed to leave the factory premises even to buy their daily necessities, with heavy company security ensuring the rule was enforced.
One of the workers interviewed by the BBC claimed that he had been putting in 12 hours a day for 29 days a month at one of the company’s factories, in a direct breach of labour laws.
To be fair, Top Glove has admitted to relocating 2,000 of its workers to new hostels it is renting and the new living spaces come with facilities like canteens, convenience shops, sports and recreational facilities, and a laundromat. But the relocation is also an indictment of the appalling living conditions of its workers before this.
In its upcoming trial, Top Glove will have to build up a strong and convincing case on why it is not guilty of breaching laws relating to workers’ living conditions. Because on top of convincing the presiding judge, the company has a huge, but not impossible task of swinging the court of public opinion back in its favour. – March 17, 2021
Dominic Tham is a FocusM editorial contributor.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Photo credit: Malay Mail