Kuala Lumpur, July 12–The Covid-19 pandemic is still raging outside Malaysia’s borders, spurring increased demand for rubber gloves – something the world’s largest glove company is only too happy to meet, except it is currently short of workers.
Malaysia imposed travel restrictions into the country beginning in March with the movement control order (MCO) in a bid to contain Covid-19.
The restrictions have been eased as the number of cases dropped with the government recently announced it was suspending the intake of new foreign workers till the end of the year, while encouraging companies to hire more Malaysians.
However, Top Glove chairman and founder, Lim Wee Chai, told Bernama that expecting only locals to fill the vacancies was unrealistic, and would reduce Malaysia’s competitiveness.
He said the company had hired 2,500 local staff last year, which form part of the company’s 19,000-strong workforce globally.
Despite recruitment efforts, the current workforce was not sufficient to meet the demand for gloves, which has increased dramatically due to Covid-19.
“Before Covid-19, we were running at about 80-85% capacity. Now we are running more than 100%.
“Though we add in new capacity, we are still not able to cope with the demand; the it is just too strong,” he said.
“So, we hope the government will open up (the recruitment process) so that we can reduce the shortage of workers. So hopefully, by September 1, after the MCO is over.”
According to the company, the lead time to fulfil orders for gloves was now more than a year. Prior to the pandemic, the lead time was between 10 and 60 days.
Bernama contacted the Human Resource Ministry for comment but did not immediately get a response.
Andy Hall, an independent British migrant worker and labour rights activist, was unsurprised the company was asking the government to allow it to employ more foreign workers.
“It’s hard work in a hot and sticky environment, so not many locals want to work there. Locals come for a short while and leave.
“Foreign workers are willing to work harder for less money and it’s not a good thing,” he said.
“If they want more workers, great; but give more incentives and protections,” he added.
Top Glove has been the subject of several news reports alleging labour rights violations, including recently by British outlet Channel 4, which accused the company of excessive overtime, illegal salary deductions and unethical recruitment practices among others.
The company characterised the Channel 4 report as “highly inaccurate.” Other rubber glove companies in Malaysia have faced similar scrutiny.
Lim acknowledged the company had made some mistakes and said the company rectified them as best as it could.
He added that workers take home at least RM1,600, which is above the minimum wage in Malaysia, are compensated according to time worked and seniority, and in accordance with local labour laws. The company also provides free healthcare and subsidised meals to their staff and workers.
Hall agreed the company had made some progress in addressing some of the concerns, but said there were still many areas that need fixing.
“Its social compliance is getting better,” he said, citing the company’s announcement it will be reimbursing its workers’ recruitment fees as an example.
“The pressure is working.”
According to news reports, Top Glove has been investing billions of ringgit in automation to address the shortage of foreign workers.
This expansion is expected to add 42 production lines to its present 700 by the end of the year. However, it is unlikely to be enough to speed up the delivery time to its customers for now.
Due to heightened demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes gloves, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company recorded a profit of RM575 million by May.
In January, before the start of the pandemic, Top Glove was trading at just below RM5 on Bursa Malaysia, but has since jumped to above RM20.
Record profits have also lifted Lim’s net worth from US$1.2 billion (RM4.8 billion) to US$4.4 billion, making him the 1,613rd on the Forbes Billionaire Index.