MTUC: Second SME stimulus package does little to protect workers earning RM4,000-RM8,000

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) logo

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KUCHING, April 7: The second stimulus package for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has failed to adequately protect workers earning between RM4,000 and RM8,000, MTUC asserts.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon, in a statement today, pointed out that this category of workers, which formed between 30 to 40 per cent of the SME workforce, risked being laid off by employers, who will be receiving financial aid from the government.

“The wage subsidy (announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) only covers employees who earn RM4,000 a month or less in salary.

“The government has once again passed up the chance to address the plight of workers earning between RM4,000-RM8,000,” he opined.

While MTUC appreciates the government giving these workers a one-off handout of RM1,000 under the Prihatin package, he however emphasised that the money was hardly able to sustain them beyond two weeks or so.

“What this category of workers urgently requires is a firm commitment from government and employers that their jobs are safe.

“As these workers are not covered directly in any of the government rescue plans for SMEs, they are at the complete mercy of employers as a priority target for lay-offs or wage cuts to reduce overheads,” he added.

In other words, Solomon stressed, despite the government’s initiatives to avoid mass retrenchments, it remained a stark possibility for workers earning RM4000 to RM8,000.

MTUC therefore strongly urged the government to ensure the wage subsidy scheme does not preclude these workers.

The immediate solution for this, he suggested, will be for the government to introduce an Emergency Employment Regulation to make retrenchment illegal for a stipulated period of time.

“We urge the government not to disregard this category of workers as they are caught between a rock and a hard place.

“They are not in the B40 category but because they work in urban centres such as Kuala Lumpur, JB and Penang where the cost of living is higher than the rest of the country, their salary is hardly enough to sustain their families.

“Salary cuts or any job loss would be catastrophic for them in every aspect,” he highlighted.

He also expressed concerns that workers will pay the ultimate price if the government did not step in with enforceable laws to prevent layoffs.

Solomon revealed that MTUC has already received about 300 complaints of Malaysian workers being forced or ‘persuaded’ by employers to go on unpaid leave or take pay cuts while workers whose contracts had expired were told to leave.

“All this happened just after three weeks of enforcing the Movement Control Order (MCO). The complaints mostly involve workers in industries of sole proprietorship and family-owned businesses while others are from the services industry. We believe the complaints are just the tip of iceberg and will increase in time.

“This is happening with utter disregard to the government’s strong warnings that employers must not lay off workers or cut their salaries during the MCO period,” he pointed out.

Solomon added that MTUC was also alarmed by another ‘gift’ from the government to SMEs in that employers can renegotiate their employment contract with workers, including an option for salary deductions and unpaid leave during the MCO.

He asserted this is clearly detrimental to the interests of workers who now risk wage cuts to their already smaller salary due to MCO, which has denied them overtime and allowances.

“With the likelihood of the MCO being extended again, these workers will clearly suffer and be hard-pressed to sustain themselves and their families.

“Giving employers leeway to rewrite the job contract of the workers at this point of time will have dire consequences on the survival of the employees,” he added.

Solomon thus urged the government to revoke its greenlight for employers to review employment contracts and instead urged that the contracts are complied with.

“Workers should not be the easy target in reducing costs while employers benefit from government assistance during bad times and dish out low wages to workers during the good years.

“The onus is now on these SMEs to keep their business afloat and protect the jobs of their workers. If they face any shortfall, they should use part of the various government’s financial packages to sustain the workers and stop making excuses at every turn to lay off workers or cut their salaries,” he added. — DayakDaily