The Labour Department, part of the Ministry of Human Resources, launched investigations into worker accommodation and hostels after last month's COVID-19 outbreak at a Top Glove factory in an industrial area near the capital Kuala Lumpur.

It said it had investigated six of Top Glove's companies in five states and had recommended filing charges after opening 19 probes. It did not say how many charges would be filed.

Top Glove said it was working to improve accommodation by Dec. 31, the end of a grace period for employers to meet new government rules on accommodation standards. The rules have been in place since Sept. 1.

Asri Ab Rahman, director-general of the Department of Labour Peninsular Malaysia, told reporters that its investigations had showed some accomodation was cramped, poorly ventilated and lacked rest and kitchen areas.

"There is concern at the ministry and pressure on the department to ensure that worker accommodations provided do not become the source of spreading diseases," he said, adding that Malaysia wanted to avoid accusations it used "forced labour".

In October, the United States added rubber gloves produced in Malaysia to a list of products produced by forced labour. Top Glove said shortly afterwards that it was working to address those U.S. concerns.

Responding to comments by the Malaysian authorities about its accommodation, Top Glove said: "Efforts to source more accommodation and to improve existing worker accommodation are ongoing, in view of the large number of workers we employ."

It said it expected to complete this around Dec. 31.

Malaysia shut some of Top Glove's factories in stages last week to facilitate screening and quarantining of employees due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 3,406 Top Glove workers had tested positive for the virus by Monday.

Tighter curbs on movement, in place since Nov. 14 in the areas where the factories and hostels are located, have been extended to Dec. 14.

(Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Edmund Blair)