Automation to help rubber industry address labour shortage

by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic by BERNAMA

THE rubber industry, which is currently facing the issue of workers’ shortage, must be prepared for automation to better compete in the global market, industry players said.

On Nov 17, Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said this shortage has resulted in a loss of RM30 billion in the last three years.

Malaysian Rubber Council (MRC) CEO Nor Hizwan Ahmad told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that the surge in demand for rubber products due to Covid-19 has forced industry players to expand their capacity.

However, it does take quite some time for the industry to have fully skilled workers that will be able to match the global demand. This, he said, has created a shortage of workers in the industry.

“With the outbreak of Covid-19, a surge in glove demand began at the end of 2019, in which industry players rushed to expand their capacities in areas where more (foreign) workers were needed, adding to the labour shortage. The movement restriction orders and border shutdowns made it more difficult to hire foreign workers,” Nor Hizwan told TMR.

He said the industry must address a few main areas, namely increasing awareness among rubber industry players in the area of social compliance and International Labour Organisation indicators of forced labour; having consistent engagement with foreign workers via town hall meetings and representational visits; strengthening enforcement on companies with social compliance issues; and raising awareness and encouraging the industry players to inculcate a healthy lifestyle within their companies for all employees, including foreign workers.

Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd said automation and digitisation are key in order for the rubber industry to survive.

“Correspondingly, organisations need to upskill and reskill their workforce. Quick and continuous wins can be found through the application of lean methodologies and semi-automation,” the firm’s representative told TMR.

“In general, the country faces an overall shortage of local workers, thereby increasing the need to depend on foreign workers. However, even prior to the pandemic, the government had imposed some measures to restrict the inflow of foreign labour into the country.

“This situation was exacerbated by further entry restrictions as a result of the pandemic. In areas where shift work is required, there is an added challenge.”

Meanwhile, Nor Hizwan underscored that the government has always been working closely with the industry to gain more insights on relevant issues, while enhancing the efforts to promote the country’s rubber industry.

“Among the efforts by the MRC are the market promotion activities through international and domestic trade shows, and capacity-building activities such as international and domestic seminars and webinars related to the rubber industry and social compliance, as well as incentives provided for the industry members.

“Frequent consultations are also held between the industry members together with the ministry and the government bodies or whenever there are new changes or requirements needed that are related to the industry,” he added.

According to Nor Hizwan, to date, the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association has conducted a review of their programmes to ensure compliance with the SEDEX Members’ Ethical Trade Audit and has encouraged their members to actively participate to ensure social compliance and sustainability issues are addressed.

“MRC has also provided incentives for industry to encourage them to comply with the relevant standards, such as SBIM22 Social Compliance Standard, offered for a three-year period from 2019 to 2022,” Nor Hizwan said.

“The incentive provides full reimbursement fees for the items related to social compliance audits, up to a maximum of RM50,000 per company. Meanwhile, SBIM23 Awareness Material for Social Compliance provides 50% of expenditure to produce material(s) related to social compliance, with a maximum claim of RM15,000 per company, to be used between 2020 and 2022.

“There’s always room for improvement in everything. Moving forward, there will be more initiatives and programmes focusing on the upstream, midstream, and downstream sectors to help elevate the rubber industry to greater achievement.”