10 Dec 2018 Ferado

NHS rubber gloves made in Malaysian factories accused of forced labour

The NHS is using medical gloves made in Malaysian factories where migrants are allegedly subjected to forced labour, forced overtime, debt bondage, withheld wages and passport confiscation.

A Guardian investigation has revealed that at least two companies supplying rubber gloves to the NHS – Top Glove and WRP – are allegedly subjecting thousands of migrant workers from Nepal and Bangladesh to exploitative working conditions.

Top Glove – the largest rubber glove manufacturer in the world and one of the biggest employers in Malaysia, with 40 factories – and fellow manufacturer WRP both produce gloves for multiple brands supplying NHS Supply Chain, the organisation which has a 40% market share of medical goods purchased by NHS hospitals and clinics in the UK.

The Top Glove workers – eight from Nepal and eight from Bangladesh – alleged that their factory was “mental torture” where they had to work seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, with only one day off a month. Their shirts were each branded with the Top Glove logo: “Be honest and no cheating.”

All 16 alleged they had their passports involuntarily held by the company and were unable to get them back on request, while reportedly “unsafe” factory conditions at Top Glove meant limbs had been lost in accidents.

Although Top Glove declined to respond directly when asked for comment, it released a statement in which it conceded that excessive daily overtime was a problem. “Lengthy working hours are our main concern and we continue to explore every possible way to address the issue of our workers’ excessive daily OT,” the company said, adding that it was working on increasing manpower and changing shift patterns to deal with the problem.

Top Glove denied the conditions in its factories were a violation of workers’ rights. “We assure you that the allegations are entirely unfounded and such allegations tarnish our good name,” it said, emphasising that it complied with “local labour law requirements” and had won a number of human resources awards.

“Top Glove adopts a zero-tolerance policy with any regard to the abuse of human’s rights at all levels,” said the statement. “In fact our human/labour rights and health initiatives exceed those of the glove industry average.”

Speaking to the Guardian, three workers from WRP – which produces the gloves for lines stocked by NHS Supply Chain – told of excessive overtime, confiscation of passports and illegal withholding of pay.

The workers also claimed they were “trapped” and not allowed to leave the WRP factory, except on Sundays. The Guardian had to conduct interviews through the factory fence.

“It’s been three months already and we have had no pay; it is very very hard,” said one Nepalese worker at WRP, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety. “I can’t send the money back to my family who need it. They are asking me where it is.”

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Speaking by text, a fourth WRP employee claimed they had run away after not receiving pay for four months. “More than a thousand workers have not got their salary,” said the worker from Nepal. “I need my salary, please help me.”

A potential client who visited the WRP factory in Malaysia, and asked not to be named, told the Guardian he had been shocked by what he had witnessed and claimed the overall working conditions were some of “the worst he had ever seen”, where factory temperatures were up to 70C for those working near ovens and more than 3,000 workers were housed in a hostel built for 1,800.

In a statement to the Guardian, the WRP chief executive, Lee Son Hong, denied the allegations as “baseless”, saying the company had “never forced any worker to work 12 hours a day without a day of rest in a week”.

“We are appalled that the issue of withholding pay and payment is made once every three months is brought up as we pay monthly wages according to the Malaysian Employment Act,” Lee added.

Lee also denied that workers were not free to leave the factory premises, stating that workers have “absolute freedom to go anywhere as and when they like except during working hours”, and said they “do NOT” confiscate workers‘ passports, but kept them in accessible lockers. “Our workers want us to keep their passports for safekeeping,” said Lee.

The allegations suggest conditions at both Top Glove and WRP factories would meet several of the International Labour Organisation’s criteria for modern slavery and forced labour, including withheld identity documents, debt bondage and excessive overtime.

Activists accused Top Glove, which this year reported a record profit of almost £1bn, and fellow glove giant WRP of taking advantage of the desperation of migrant workers, who come to Malaysia because of the lack of work and high poverty levels in Bangladesh and Nepal.

Payslips seen by the Guardian seemed to indicate workers often worked between 120 and 160 hours’ overtime a month, exceeding the 104 hours allowed by Malaysian law.

At Top Glove, the payslips appear to show the basic salary was 4.8 ringgit (90p) per hour, with basic monthly pay of 1,000 ringgit, less than half the national median wage of 2,160 ringgit.

The payslips also seemed to show that, despite it being written into their contracts, workers only received double overtime pay for four of the 12 hours they worked on Sundays, their one rest day a week, depriving them of thousands in wages every year.

Production targets were also reported to be extremely high.

Some workers alleged they had to package 15,000 gloves in one day, while one worker claimed his daily target had increased by 400% over the past year. If they did not meet the targets, they said money was deducted from their pay.

A 22-year-old Nepalese worker on the Top Glove production line said: “When I wake up every morning I am filled with dread. I think: ‘How can I get through the next 12 hours of working? I don’t know if I can do it any more.’

“But what can we do? Lots of workers have mental breakdowns in the factory and have to pay to go back home. Top Glove factory is mental torture.”

Activists accused Top Glove of taking advantage of the desperation of migrant workers. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
“We can’t say no to working on rest days or on overtime,” said one 30-year-old Bangladeshi worker, who asked to remain unnamed out of fear of company reprisals. “If we do, they say they will just send us back and I cannot afford to lose this job.”

His words were echoed by a Nepalese migrant worker, who said: “I am desperate to come to the church and pray on Sundays but I cannot; they will not let me.” Top Glove did not address the question of compulsory Sunday working in its statement.

Top Glove admitted it took workers’ passports but said it was only for “safekeeping” in a locker to which workers had access. “We do not confiscate workers’ passports,” said the company in its statement. Top Glove said it had a foreign workers’ passport safekeeping policy, to which workers had agreed by signing a consent form.

This was not reflected in any account given to the Guardian though one worker said that when an auditor had visited the factory, the workers had been temporarily handed locker keys and made to sign a form. The workers were not told which organisation the auditor represented.

‘Who would we complain to?’
Workers alleged that for months, sometimes years, much of their salary went towards paying off the debt they had incurred to come and work for Top Glove.

All Bangladeshi migrants who spoke to the Guardian claimed they had paid 18,000-20,000 ringgit (£3,300-£3,700) in recruitment fees to get the Top Glove factory job, while Nepalese migrants claimed to have paid up to of 7,000 ringgit (£1,300) in fees to work for Top Glove in Malaysia, leaving them in high levels of debt bondage. These fees were passed down through agents back in Nepal and Bangladesh.

Top Glove denied imposing recruitment fees higher than 20% of the workers’ salary. “Top Glove only imposes recruitment fees as allowed by the local authorities, and the government of workers’ source countries,” said the statement.

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Factory production lists seen by the Guardian, and brands and suppliers named by workers inside the factory, confirm that the Top Glove factories in Malaysia are producing medical and surgical gloves for companies that supply NHS Supply Chain.

An NHS Supply Chain spokesperson said: “NHS Supply Chain takes all allegations of labour abuses in its supply chain very seriously, and we have range of contractual arrangements and initiatives in place to try and prevent such situations arising.”

“We will be taking immediate steps with our suppliers to investigate the labour standards issues that you have identified and take action to responsibly address verified issues as appropriate.”

NHS Supply Chain has a code of conduct that is supposed to ensure there is no abuse in the chain, but Mahmood Bhutta, an NHS surgeon who founded the Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group at the British Medical Association (BMA), said that the Guardian’s findings suggested “these processes are not working”.

The exterior of the Top Glove factory Photograph: Hannah Ellis-Petersen for the Guardian
He said he felt “ashamed as a doctor to be wearing gloves manufactured using human exploitation”.

“The BMA has been raising concerns about labour rights abuse in healthcare supply chains for over a decade,” said Bhutta.

The NHS uses more than 1.5bn boxes of medical gloves annually – each box often containing hundreds of pairs – with a value of over £35m. The figures for surgical gloves were not available.

The revelations of Top Glove and WRP come just a week after the British prime minister, Theresa May, announced that next year the government would outline steps taken to prevent modern slavery in its own supply chains.

David Thomas, the UK deputy high commissioner to Malaysia, told the Guardian he was aware of the allegations and was “raising them with local authorities and alerting UK supply chains”.

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10 Dec 2018 Ferado

Congress to soft launch outreach effort for domestic workers

NEW DELHI: Delhi Congress leader Sharmistha Mukherjee will launch an outreach programme on a pilot basis for women domestic workers at Yamuna Vihar on Sunday.
Through ‘Meri Mita’ (my friend), the outreach programme, the party plans to make an impact on various urban class households who hire domestic workers. After two weeks, based on the feedback from the ground, the party plans to hold a mega show of workers where both the employers and the workers will be sensitised and informed about various facts.

“Domestic workers are one of the major sections in the unauthorised workers, but they are not recognised. They need recognition and our full support,” said Mukherjee, who is the president of the party’s women wing.

At the same time, the Delhi Congress also plans to make inroads for reaching out to the slum dwellers and jhuggi-jhopri residents, who have turned their backs on the party after emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party.

In 2016, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had moved a Private Member Bill in Parliament regarding the welfare, protection and security of domestic workers. Courtesy the ‘Meri Mita’ programme, the Congress plans to address various issues such as unpaid wages, starvation, inhumane work hours and verbal, physical and sexual abuse which they face almost on a daily basis.

“Dignity and appreciation is very important for any worker, and so is the case for domestic workers,” the Congress Mahila Morcha president asserted.

According to some studies, there has been a 120% increase in domestic workers in the decade post liberalisation. From 7.4 lakh in 1991, it swelled to 16.6 lakh in 2001.

As per the data provided by the Delhi Labour Organisation, there are over five crore domestic workers in India, most of whom are women.

Often, there are reports of underpay and even abuse of servants. Last year, a housing society in Noida saw a mob attack its owners after a maid was allegedly held captive.

10 Dec 2018 Ferado

With 477 employees, KPEZDMC to cut jobs for rationalization

Peshawar: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Economic Zones Development and Management Company (KPEZDMC), one of the flagship companies the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government established to expedite industrialization in the province, is going to cut jobs in the name of rationalisation as the company has failed to deliver.

It has been observed by some members of the company’s somewhat dormant and unreasonably large Board of Directors (BoD) that the layoffs will have to occur as the company needs to either undergo restructuring and downsizing or go out of business.

The KPEZDMC was set up to run the affairs of industrial estates and economic zones through corporate governance. The decision also led to the closure of the Sarhad Development Authority (SDA), which was established in 1973, to carry out similar services in the province.

All the assets and records of the now defunct SDA were transferred to the KPEZDMC through a letter issued by the secretary industries, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government.

The company is governed through a 21-member BoD with 75 percent representation from the private sector. The remaining 25 percent of its members come from the public sector. The board has now been restructured with secretary industries as its head.

The company over the last few months terminated the services of four high-ranking executives for a variety of reasons.

The latest terminations came on Monday when the government-owned company sacked the acting head of the Human Resource Department, Attique Sultan Raja and Estate Manager Islam Gul.

The company’s Board of Director (BoD) last year in August approved the termination of Chief Human Resource Officer Jawad Amin and Chief Finance Officer Shaukat Iqbal Khattak.

The KPEZDMC is mulling terminating more employees as part of what its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Saeed Ahmed, termed a much-needed rationalisation to increase the company’s efficiency.

Saeed Ahmed said that they had completed their analysis and assessment of the situation that warranted rationalisation of the company.

“We will take our work to the BoD that would hopefully meet next month. We will straightaway go for rationalization in the company if the board approved our analysis and assessment,” Saeed Ahmed added.
He said the company had 477 employees, including 168 staffers it inherited from the SDA and 309 of its own personnel.
“Looking at our scope of work in hand and that in future we have decided to lay some of them off. We will only keep staff in accordance with our current scope of work and future projects,” the CEO explained.
When his attention was drawn to the recent appointments on top positions in KPEZDMC, he said that ironically some departments in the company were overstaffed while others remained understaffed. “Like tell me how a company could operate without a manager legal. We have appointed legal management and one assistant manager, again a very important position,” Saeed added.
About the two latest terminations, he said they have been terminated under Clause 5 of their contract which allows the company to sack any of its employees with a month prior notice or one month salary in lieu.
“The company reserves the right to end the employment at any time with one month notice or gross salary in lieu under this clause,” Saeed maintained.

He said that further downsizing would be across the board and injustice would not be done to any employee. He added that it would be based on the future scope of work and employees’ efficiency.

Fuad Ishaq, former president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and an ex-member of the KPEZDMC BoD, said they have also brought the matters regarding the affairs of the company to the notice of Chief Minister Mahmood Khan when a delegation of the chamber called on him the other day.

He said the chief minister directed the secretary industries heading the KPEZDMC BoD to sit with the business community leaders and sort out the issues concerning the KPEZDMC affairs.

“We informed the chief minister that the company required complete restructuring. The CEO is getting Rs1.3 million salary while his controlling authority in the public sector (secretary industries) is receiving a little more than Rs100,000. This is a predicament. Isn’t it?” he said.

He said they also asked him to reconsider the size of the company’s board and bring it down to a manageable size.

“We told the chief minister that private members and chairman, who is also supposed to be from the private sector, could give the company a vision only. They cannot run it so the government should take on board relevant people to run the company in a proper manner,” Fuad Ishaq argued.

10 Dec 2018 Ferado

Bahria Town Employees protest over non-payment of salaries

Karach: Employees of Bahria Town in Karachi are protesting on Saturday against non-payment of salaries.

The protest continues at main gate of Bahria Town on Super Highway, wherein citizens have also joined in with the protesting employees.

The protesting employees said that 5,000 Bahria Town employees have not been given their salaries for last six months and overtime for last four months.

They said that our families are starving, and even we are unable to pay school fees of our children.

The protestors said that more than 20,000 people are getting affected directly or indirectly.

They asked Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar to take notice to resolve the matter.

Separately, rallies against the negative propaganda about Bahria Town are also being held in Karachi today.

Sources said that rally participants will reach at Star Gate, Shahrah-e-Faisal from two different locations i.e. Tauheed Commercial DHA and Bahria Town Karachi Site.

They said that a large number of employees and builders have gathered to participate in rallies.

The rally participants are of the view that electricity and accounts of Bahria Town should be restored.

27 Nov 2018 Ferado

NAVTTC forms private sector engagement cell

Islamabad: The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) has established a dedicated private sector engagement cell at its headquarters to streamline the collaboration with the private sector.

The cell headed by the executive director of NAVTTC would be comprised of a director and four deputy directors which is mandated to ensure proactive liaison with the private sector partners.

According to a notification on the establishment of the engagement cell, this will help in advancing the cause of skill enhancement of the youth and would pave way for the employability of the graduates of the technical and vocational education and training sector.

An active role of the private sector in planning, designing and delivery of technical and vocational education and training is a prerequisite for producing skilled workforce according to the demands of the labour market.

The newly established cell would work for better coordination through the private sector engagement for access to quality skills training through various modes including on-the-job training.

NAVTC, being an apex body of the TVET sector in the country has given prime importance to the private sector which is essential to build a demand-driven TVET system in Pakistan for increasing youth employability and industrial productivity.

Federal minister for education and professional training Shafqat Mahmood has already inaugurated the National Skills Forum, a joint forum of NAVTTC and Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), which comprise of representative from industries, private sector and public sector organizations.