Migrant rights groups are urging Top Glove to cease all operations in its Meru factories and allow workers to go into quarantine, following a coronavirus outbreak involving some 4,000 workers.
The glove manufacturer has been allowed to shut down its operations on a staggered basis, to avoid damage to the production machinery.
"They should all be in quarantine, based on the current situation, and not be called back to work to meet the demands of the production," NGO Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said.
"Are migrant workers not human enough to be respected and given protection? Or do the industries and government continue to regard them as machines, commodifying them to meet ends for profit-making?" she asked.
Up to Nov 26, the workers - mostly foreigners - continue to be bused to the factories, including from nearby budget hotels where Top Glove has placed the workers.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Malaysiakini's visit to Jalan Teratai saw several busloads of workers entering or leaving the factories, as per normal.
Top Glove’s 28 factories in Meru are located side by side along Jalan Teratai, with the cluster of Covid-19 cases there referred to as the Teratai cluster.
About 7pm yesterday, roughly a dozen buses were spotted, believed to be ferrying workers returning from the day shift, while others were believed to be sending workers clocking in for the night shift. The workers were seen entering or leaving at least seven factories.
However, on Wednesday, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said only one of the glove maker's Meru factories was still operational.
He said 20 were closed on Tuesday, another seven on Wednesday and the last one would follow suit.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the company had negotiated for a staggered closure to avoid damage to machinery.
Staggered closure saves machinery, but may endanger the workers, migrant rights NGO North South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira said.
Pereira added that this is because contractual and external workers, like cleaners and seasonal workers, may be made to work in the case of staggered closure, even if full-time staff are spared.
“Why put them at risk? If a large number of workers are positive (for Covid-19), it is best to shut down the production for a window of time to ensure the safety of all workers.
“Glove production and profits must not be prioritised over risking everyone’s health,” he said.
Workers unaware of their own Covid-19 status
In a press conference on Wednesday, Top Glove said some 500 workers have been placed in hotels because they cannot return to their dormitory, which is now under the enhanced movement control order (MCO).
It said these workers were those discharged from hospital or quarantine centres and deemed fit to return to work.
According to the Health Ministry, only 455 patients from the Teratai cluster have been discharged.
Sources among the Top Glove's workforce told Malaysiakini that some of these workers were moved several times over the past weeks and are thus far unaware of their own Covid-19 status.
Malaysiakini understands that they were not told why they were moved, or if they were supposed to be in the hospital or in a quarantine centre.
Some believed they were in quarantine centres for only five days before being discharged and moved to a budget hotel.
Malaysiakini is unable to independently verify this and has contacted the Health director-general on the matter.
Health Ministry policy dictates those who test positive for Covid-19 are to be isolated in a hospital or in a designated quarantine centre if their symptoms are not severe, for up to 14 days.
Some workers expressed worry about returning to work, but do not have a choice as they do not want to be penalised.
Yesterday, a large group of workers housed at a budget hotel in Klang were sent for screening.
A bus bearing the hotel’s name was seen fetching workers from a Top Glove factory on Jalan Teratai at the end of their shift the same evening.
Malaysiakini has contacted Top Glove for further comment and clarification.
One person in Teratai cluster in ICU
To date, 6,526 people have been screened in the Teratai cluster, nearly all of them Top Glove workers.
Of that number, 4,093 tested positive, including 71 non-workers, believed to be family members of Malaysian workers.
A total of 3,638 are currently in treatment, with one in intensive care.
Less than 10 percent of infected Top Glove workers are Malaysians.
The Health Ministry said an estimated 11,215 people will be screened in relation to the Teratai cluster, including all Top Glove workers.