Top Glove shares fall 5.7% after report that Covid-19 whistleblower was fired

A Top Glove employee in Malaysia was fired for sharing photos of his co-workers crowding into one of the company's factories. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Shares of Top Glove Corp sank to a three-month low on Monday (Dec 14) following news that the world's biggest glovemaker had fired a whistleblower before the Covid-19 outbreak at its factories.

The mainboard-listed counter tumbled as much as 5.7 per cent or $0.13 to $2.15 at around 9.57am on the Singapore bourse. The last time the counter closed below this level was on Sept 10 at $2.13.

As at 10.48am on Monday, the stock was trading 4.4 per cent or $0.10 lower on the day at $2.18, with 2.9 million shares changing hands.

A Top Glove employee in Malaysia had taken two photos in May of his co-workers crowding into one of the company's factories, but was fired in September for sharing them, Reuters reported on Sunday.

The photos showed dozens of workers lined up less than a metre apart to have their temperatures checked, as a precaution against the disease, before starting the night shift.

Although the company required everyone to wear masks and gloves, the whistleblower and five other workers told Reuters that social distancing was not enforced or followed outside the factory.

Fast-forward almost three months, Top Glove's complex of factories and dormitories in Klang has become Malaysia's largest Covid-19 cluster with more than 5,000 infections, the authorities said on Dec 1. The company confirmed last Wednesday that 5,147 workers at its Klang factories had tested positive for the coronavirus.

That's double the 2,453 positive cases among Top Glove employees announced in late November. The Malaysian government said then that it would temporarily close, in stages, 28 of Top Glove's manufacturing facilities in Klang to screen and quarantine workers.

The government has also opened 19 investigation papers into six Top Glove subsidiaries over offences involving workers' dormitories. The company is being investigated for violations of the Workers' Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act. If found guilty, Top Glove may have to fork out an RM50,000 ($16,437) fine for each offence.

On Dec 9, during a press conference to discuss its first-quarter earnings, Top Glove said it was planning to reduce its dependence on foreign workers and employ more locals. The company said then that in FY2021, it aims to recruit 9,000 new employees comprising 7,000 new or experienced hires as well as 2,000 interns and trainees. Of the new or experienced hires, 4,500 or 64.3 per cent will be locals.

The company's net profit surged to RM2.38 billion (S$782 million) for its first quarter ended November, about 21 times that of RM111.4 million in the year-ago period.

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