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Government harasses Malaysian union leader after safety concerns aired

27 July, 2020Malaysian union leader N. Gopalkishnam has faced government harassment since airing safety concerns in a report for Channel 4 News in the UK. He believes the government should focus instead on taking serious steps to ensure the safety and health of workers in factories exporting personal protective equipment.

On 16 June, Channel 4 News in the UK shockingly revealed the failure of the biggest rubber glove manufacturer in the world, Top Glove, to comply with the social distancing rules imposed by Malaysian authorities. The investigative report also exposed the poor living conditions of migrant workers at the company.

Shocked by the working conditions, the general secretary of National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers (NUTEAIW), N. Gopalkishnam, commented in the video that the violation of the Covid-19 prevention protocol puts the entire Top Glove workforce at risk. He urged the UK National Health Service (NHS) to stop buying medical gloves from the company.

Due to this comment, made in solidarity with the workers at the rubber glove factory, Home Ministry officers called Gopalkishnam several times and visited NUTEAIW’s office without prior notice. A meeting was arranged on the morning of 24 July.

N. Gopalkishnam says :

“It puzzles me that, during the meeting, the Home Ministry officers were only interested in persons behind the video and my contacts in the factory. Why don’t they care about workers’ health and violation of social distancing rules in the factory?”

The Labour Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 58 trade unions and NGOs, issued a statement on 23 July:

“The new government has been tightening its grip on critics from trade union movement and civil society organizations. Other than union leader, social activists highlighting issues on electoral reform, refugees, death in custody were summoned by the police for investigation.

“We urge the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to end harassment against Gopalkishnam and other social activists immediately. It is important that the government respects the democratic rights of union and NGO leaders to voice the concerns of workers and marginalized communities.”

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches says:

“IndustriALL calls on the Malaysian government to respect this trade union leader’s freedom of expression and stop all investigations against Gopalkishnam. To fight Covid-19, all governments need trade unions to act as their eyes and ears in workplaces to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”