Lockdown warning a wake-up call for industries

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE stock market fell 20.12 points yesterday on the possibility that the government will impose stricter Covid-19 measures on industries.

It was also a wake-up call for the manufacturing industry to be more active in curbing infections among workers, according to the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM).

Investors were spooked on news that the government told foreign industries it was considering a “complete economic lockdown” after Feb 4, if cases continue to rise.

The source of the report came from a letter issued by the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eurocham Malaysia) to its members.

Eurocham Malaysia has since denied that it meant to say there will be a total industrial lockdown, but the letter was issued after an informal meeting with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

However, the market was also reacting to news that the rise in Covid-19 cases, which has consistently been hovering at 3,000 new cases a day, was being contributed in large numbers by factory workers.

FMM has urged industry players to tighten existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) at workplaces and living quarters of employees who are mostly foreigners.

Its president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said FMM issued another reminder for members to improve the living conditions of workers so they comply with anti-Covid-19 measures including physical distancing at workers’ housing.

FMM also asked members to extend the improvement to workers to their subcontractors.

“Comply with the government’s directive for all foreign workers to be screened and endeavour to get this concluded soonest possible by the set deadline.

“Mass testing has also proven to be a very effective approach to pick up positive cases and trigger the necessary protocols that would ensure swift action and minimal disruption to operations,” he said in a statement.

The capacity of the vehicles or busses to ferry workers is to be kept at 50% or below to ensure physical distancing is maintained while transporting workers including all other SOPs and precautionary measures.

Soh said senior management must oversee compliance to the SOPs at workers’ accommodation and during transportation.

“Isolate suspected or positive Covid-19 cases at a dedicated point similar to self-quarantine, away from other workers and immediately notify the nearest state or district health departments.

“Advocate a ‘safe work bubble’ for employees by monitoring and limiting employees’ movement to the minimum and on a ‘need’ basis only. Daily travel should be limited to the commute from home to workplace and back,” he said.

FMM was equally concerned that 30% of all active Covid-19 clusters, 99 out of 318, are from the manufacturing industry.

Soh said the prospect of another total industrial lockdown was a wake-up call for industries to really be active in curbing the pandemic.

“We, the business sector cannot withstand another round of total lockdown similar to the Movement Control Order in March 2020,” he said.

Soh also appealed to the government to step in and facilitate rapid testing of factory workers so that businesses can comply with the mandatory screening deadline.

“Ensure sufficient test facilities and labs to cope with the volume of tests that would be carried out during this period and for timely release of test results,” he said.

Infectious disease consultant Datuk Dr Christopher Lee said the current high infection rate the manufacturing industry is due to lack of adherence to existing health guidelines.

He said although they are not specific to Covid-19, various government agencies have their own regulations to curb mass infections among workers.

“This is understandable as every work setting is different in infrastructure and processes. With the continuing increase in workplace clusters, companies and workers are not adhering to SOPs, or not able to adhere adequately due to limitations or obstacles on the ground.

“Whichever the reason might be, one thing is clear. There is a lack of ownership of the problem by the companies and workers themselves,” he told TMR.

Dr Lee said another major aspect is the housing arrangement of workers, especially migrant workers.

He said minimal hygiene standards must be imposed which will save companies money in the long run by maintaining workers’ health), as well as ensuring compliance to international labour norms.

“To do this we will have to engage the workers as accommodation conditions are not only dependent on the employers but also the migrant workers themselves.

“Often we may have to deal with various aspects of their culture or subculture,” he explained.


Read our earlier report

No to total lockdown for economy’s sake