Glovemaker WRP to reimburse recruitment fee paid by workers

WRP Asia Pacific workers during a protest over their pay, job security and other concerns at the company’s factory in Bandar Baru Salak Tinggi in Sepang on Jan 6 last year.

PETALING JAYA: Glovemaker WRP Asia Pacific has started a recruitment fee remediation programme for around 1,600 of its foreign workers in what is believed to be an industry first in Malaysia.

It is understood around US$5 million (RM21.4 million) will be spent on the remediation programme.

Set to be carried out on a quarterly basis, each worker is expected to receive a total payout ranging from RM4,547 to RM16,054 over the next 30 months.

Foreign workers are regularly forced to pay agents exorbitant recruitment fees to find jobs in sectors such as plantations, construction or domestic care in Malaysia.

Taking out high-interest loans or selling properties or other possessions to pay for these fees, in addition to the high monthly repayments to these agencies, pushes the workers into debt bondage.

The programme is part of WRP’s efforts to meet conditions set by the United States’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for WRP, one of Malaysia’s leading rubber glove manufacturers, to continue its exports to the US.

CBP imposed a withhold release order on WRP’s exports to the US last September after charges that its gloves were produced with forced labour.

The ban was lifted in March based on information obtained by CBP showing that the company was no longer producing its rubber gloves under forced labour conditions.

“I paid around 120,000 Nepali rupees (around RM4,280) to an agency to get to Malaysia, and this (remediation programme) should be enough to repay that in full,” one WRP worker told FMT.

“I am very happy. I got RM114 last week and in total, I will be getting RM4,547.

“The payments from WRP will be made every three months, and as my contract is expiring in April 2021, WRP said they will bank in the balance before I leave,” he added.

Another worker verified last week’s initial payment from WRP, stating that he too would be getting RM4,547 in total.

“I received RM114 in my bank account last week and I am very happy as this will help to pay off my debt,” the worker told FMT. “I will receive the rest of the payments in instalments — two more this year, four in 2021 and another four in 2022,” he added.

Last week’s payments are in stark contrast to the negative headlines created in January 2019 when nearly 2,000 Nepali workers staged a three-day strike after claiming they had not been paid their salary for three months.

A subsequent investigation by the Labour Department found that WRP was guilty of withholding workers’ salaries, not paying overtime wages, making unfair pay cuts and working during breaks or public holidays.

WRP attracted more bad press last month when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) raided the company’s premises as part of investigations into alleged misappropriation of funds by a former CEO who was removed from his position last November after accusations of mismanagement by the company’s board of directors.

WRP’s new board of directors, which gained possession of the company in January, said it had uncovered “substantial issues” with the help of forensic auditors.

Apart from claiming that the CEO had refused to answer to the board and wanted to wind up the company, the board filed action against him for criminal breach of trust involving RM8.4 million.

In a statement issued to FMT in relation to the recruitment fee remediation programme, WRP’s lawyers, Thomas Philip Advocates and Solicitors, said they were “committed to make good the payment due to the workers”.

Noting that its current priority was to ensure all matters related to its workers were resolved, WRP said it was also working with an international organisation to ensure “everything is above board” and equitable to all parties.

Meanwhile, asked about its role in the remediation programme, CBP told FMT that when manufacturers submitted petitions to it to modify or revoke a withhold release order, such petitions normally included their remediation plans that addressed the forced labour indicators mentioned in the withhold release order – which is an order to US ports of entry to withhold the release of volatile merchandise into the US.

“When reviewing petitions to modify or revoke a withhold release order, CBP looks for evidence that demonstrates a manufacturer has addressed and/or remediated the indicator of forced labour to prove that the subject merchandise is no longer produced with forced labour,” a CBP spokesperson told FMT.

“If CBP finds the evidence provided by a manufacturer is sufficient, the agency will modify or revoke the withhold release order.”

Malaysia, the world’s biggest rubber glove supplier, has seen demand for gloves surge amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association last month said it expected global consumption of rubber gloves to rise by more than 11% to 330 billion pieces this year — two-thirds of which would likely be produced in Malaysia.

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