Malaysia worries about housing for foreign workers as Covid-19 infections increase, SE Asia News & Top Stories

KUALA LUMPUR – A production associate at the world’s largest rubber glove manufacturer Top Glove lamented that the conditions in his Malaysian accommodation offered by the company are dire.

“Each room has about eight to 12 employees, and we share a bathroom,” the young migrant worker told The Straits Times, on condition of anonymity.

“I don’t feel comfortable in the accommodation because there are so many workers in a room and it gets dirty,” he said. Sometimes water was not available to clean the bathrooms, he said.

As Malaysian authorities struggle to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases in the country, dormitories for foreign workers have emerged as hotbeds for infections.

The daily mean number of cases in Malaysia has usually remained above 1,000 per day since November, reaching a record 2,188 on November 24.

Health experts say the overcrowded and unsanitary dormitories are breeding grounds for the Covid-19 virus.

The Top Glove-linked coronavirus cluster, named the Teratai cluster after the street where many of the company’s factories and dormitories are located, registered at least 5,083 positive cases from 6,609 people screened by Monday (Nov. 30).

Worse still, labor activists say Top Glove’s dormitories in Klang district of Selangor are the tip of the iceberg for poor housing conditions for foreign workers in Malaysia.

“It is important to note that the issues highlighted by the Top Glove case study of abuse are systemic issues throughout the Malaysian glove industry and even in most labor-intensive sectors of the Malaysian economy,” said Andy Hall, activist. for labor rights. .

The government said it would take legal action against Top Glove after finding it failed to meet workers’ housing standards. PHOTO: ANDY HALL

“The conditions in Top Glove are far from the worst, they are even better than most,” Hall told ST. He shared photos of hostels with other glove manufacturers, describing them as “awful” and “awful”.

Top Glove employs 21,000 workers at its factories in four countries, 11,000 of whom are migrant workers in its Malaysian factories. They are mostly from South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal, earning a basic salary starting from around RM1,200 (S $ 394).

Top Glove’s dormitories in Klang and surrounding areas are under a strict enclosure called the Enhanced Movement Control Order, with barbed wire fencing around the property.

Malaysia registered 1,141 new daily cases on Friday to bring the total to 70,236. There were no further fatalities and the death toll remained at 376.

Many of the accommodation provided by employers for foreign workers in Malaysia does not meet the minimum standards. PHOTO: ANDY HALL

Nearly 890,000 foreign workers will have to undergo a Covid-19 screening, which has begun, senior minister (security cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Tuesday. In the first phase of the studies, the government is distributing 100,000 antigen rapid test kits to clinics and hospitals in several states.

Malaysia has two million foreigners working legally in the country.

There are an estimated two million undocumented migrants and it is unclear how they could be persuaded to undergo the health screenings.

The government said on Tuesday it would take legal action against Top Glove after finding it failed to meet workers’ housing standards.

Top Glove said it has spent RM 20 million in the past two months improving employee housing and plans to expand its dormitories.

Employers say they needed more time to meet government requirements, such as housing just six employees per 1,500 square feet. The government has warned that those who fail to do so will be fined RM50,000 per employee.

“The condition of workers ‘housing may not be as good as it should be. But employers need time,” said Shamsuddin Bardan, director of the Malaysian Employers’ Federation. “Even meeting the requirements by the end of next year would be challenging due to the economic slowdown.”

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