Local manufacturers of latex gloves Top Glove have shown themselves to be anti-worker. Over the past few weeks Top Glove has given us the largest Covid-19 cluster in Malaysia with more than 5,000 infections of Covid-19 amongst their workers, proven to provide appalling workers’ accommodation which led to The Labour Department opening 19 investigation papers in five states against them and even fired a worker who took a picture of the lack of social distancing within the company. The Teratai cluster has now resulted in the death of a security guard as well.
All of the above show the revolting true face of the company. Whilst basking in an era of increased profits of up to 400%, Top Glove has prioritised making money over taking care of its workers. If unofficial sources are to be believed, the working conditions in the company is similarly brutal, showing its success to be mainly for the fattening of capitalist pockets.
Top Glove is not the only company like this. Many firms that project a squeaky-clean image hide disturbing skeletons in their closets. Large multinational companies rely on underpaying and overworking their labour force to drive up profits. Even those that claim not to often utilise contract workers or subcontract out to vendor companies that do to lessen their costs. The exploitation of workers is the lifeblood by which our economy functions. The fact that we are integrated within the global supply chain has led to cheap labour being our selling point to attract investors. As such, the Malaysian labour force is condemned to be sold lock, stock and barrel to greedy companies looking for a profit.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia has seen time and again how our workers are treated inhumanely. We have stood with them at the forefront to organise them into functioning unions and have fought thousands of labour cases to force irresponsible employers to give the proper compensation to their employees. On the subject of migrant labour, we have seen how the companies that bring them in and state actors have collaborated to extract every last cent from migrant workers, from forcing them to live in cramped, unhygienic rooms to withholding their salaries for multiple months. Yet time goes by with practically no improvement.
How long are we to sell workers like cattle to capitalists? How long are we going to step upon the necks of migrant workers just to reap the benefits of their underpaid labour? Pemuda Sosialis is sickened, yet what is the use of appealing to an uncaring state which does nothing to remedy the situation? This is not even a dig on Perikatan Nasional, even Pakatan Harapan in 2018 gave the green light to Top Glove with then Minister of Human Resources, M. Kulasegaran, stating there was no evidence of worker exploitation in Top Glove.
Are we then to believe the appalling workers’ accommodations suddenly appeared between then and now? Or are we to believe that the same company, which has had many complaints on forced labour, has been treating their workers well?
Yet this is the reality of an economy wholly reliant on capital accumulation and the maximisation of profit. The billions of Ringgit generated do well to shield top executives from the cries of anguish of their workers. The very same billions then conveniently turn the authorities away from these atrocities to rubber stamp them instead.
Assuming a compliant government, the following steps must be taken against Top Glove:
1. Deadlines and Probationary Period
Top Glove must be given a deadline not more than 3 months to adequately improve their workers’ accommodations and be shown to ensure the compliance of all employees with Covid-19 SOPs. If they cannot meet this target, Top Glove’s operating license and land licenses for their facilities must be suspended until they can meet it.
Additionally, Top Glove must be put on a probationary period during which time random audits must be done to ensure the changes they have implemented are truly sustainable. An anonymous channel for their workers to give feedback during this period must be set up to identify internal pressure from management covering up labour abuses.
2. Push for Worker’ Involvement in Management
It is time that we understand without workers’ involvement in managing company decisions, their exploitation is imminent. For that, the workers themselves must be the owners of the means of production, otherwise known as the resources producing goods. When it comes to Top Glove, we must understand that to do away with top executives fattening their pockets with the exploitation of workers, they must not be the sole decision makers. Top Glove must be taken over and changed into a workers’ collective, for we have seen their management model failing to protect their workers properly.
Is this too far-fetched for us to imagine? We need not look too far for working examples. In Argentina exist worker-owned businesses of many types, from hotels to factories, that resulted from the occupy movement beginning in the late 90s which saw workers from retrenched businesses simply taking over the possession of properties and machinery to continue producing. They divided labour needs amongst themselves, organised production schedules and negotiated deals with customers all by themselves, proving there is no need for overbearing top executives for any essential activity other than to be leeching off their hard-earned profits. These workers collectively own the businesses, decide its direction together and easily work out salaries amongst themselves.
3. Invest in a Federal Jobs Guarantee Scheme
The state must understand how truly damaging Top Glove has been. They have worsened a public health crisis, indulged in human rights abuses and basked in profiteering off the pandemic, making millions they did not use to better Malaysian lives. This cannot continue, even a windfall tax is not enough.
That we have exposed our labour force to such manipulative parties warrant a deep introspection on how our economy functions. For us to ensure solid economic growth whilst minimising exploitation, there must an adequate Federal Jobs Guarantee scheme with set benefits and compensation for our workers. This way the usual threat used by private companies to keep workers silent against abuses, that of firing them, will no longer exist as the state guarantees work for those who are willing and able. Hence, there would be lesser prevalence of private abuses of workers.
With this in mind, we should not be so overburdened with the status quo to not realise the efficacy of the new. We should no longer keep up the pretence of private ownership, especially of large businesses, just to allow our workers to be treated like trash. It is time we do away with labour exploitation and, perhaps, Top Glove should be the first domino to fall.
Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Head of the Science and Technology Bureau of Pemuda Sosialis, Parti Sosialis Malaysia