LETTER | One of the main beneficiary from the untold misery brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic has been the rubber glove manufacturers. As a nation that supplies 60 percent of the global demand for rubber gloves, our rubber glove manufacturers are surfing the waves to capitalise on the current Covid-19 pandemic window of opportunity to increase their output and, in the process, accumulate unprecedented gains.
As a matter of fact, the Malaysian glove manufacturers association (Margma) "pleaded and begged" the government to allow them to operate at optimum levels even when the initial movement control order was announced as of March 18. As for the records, they got what they begged for!
In the ensuing period, the market capitalisation of companies such as Top Glove, Hartelaga, Kossan, Supermax and the ilk, saw unparalleled gains as a result thereof. So was the case of the smaller capitalised glove manufacturers. The upsurge, in the global demand for rubber gloves, has also resulted in the average selling price of gloves to attain never before seen figures translating to a manifold increase in profits.
In a free-market capitalistic system, such accumulation of wealth does not seem repugnant though it can be challenged, as otherwise, in the context of humanity regardless of the fact that investors are in the economic sphere to amass returns on investment. Though that may be so, it is our contention that they are beholden to subscribe to the ideals of social justice in sharing the profits that they so reap from the blood, sweat, tears, lives lost and bodies maimed of the working class.
The rubber glove manufacturing workers, besides those involved in the personal protective equipment sector, are also frontliners in the quest to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. But sadly, they have been reduced to a non-entity in terms of recognition for their sacrifices. Working in a densely populated working environment, they were made to perform their contractual obligations without so much as a consideration of them falling victims to the Covid-19 infection. But toil they did irrespective of them being Malaysians or migrant workers!
It is an indisputable fact that glove manufacturers employ thousands of migrant workers all of whom incurred exorbitant recruitment cost in their country of origin in the dream of finding economic security in our country. Sadly, they remain entrapped in the vicious circle of what has been referenced to as bonded labour akin to modern slavery.
Having to work the maximum monthly 104 overtime hours, rest day and public holidays, effectively binding them to work without so much as a weekly day off or sufficient rest to re-energise themselves, has reduced them to slave for their goal to break out from their debt bondage.
The latest case involving Top Glove Sdn Bhd and its subsidiary TG Medical Sdn Bhd, which have been slapped with a "withhold release order" by the United States custom and border agency, seems to suggest that the problem of debt bondage remains unresolved in the said company. And we are inclined to believe that it would be a fact in all other sectors that depends on migrant guest workers.
In regard to the said issue, we pose the following questions - Are the glove manufacturing employers minded to lift their migrant workers from the debt bondage that they are entrapped in? Are Top Glove Sdn Bhd and its subsidiary TG Medical Sdn Bhd committed to following the decision of another glove company WRP Asia Pacific to make such remediation payments? Are all other employers, regardless of the economic sector they are in, prepared to take the initiative to alleviate their migrant workers from the debt bondage that they are entrapped in?
As they say, the ball is at their feet!
K VEERIAH is secretary of the Penang Division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC).
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.