PETALING JAYA, 7 April 2020 – Putrajaya has been urged to come out with alternative strategies for the millions of workers in the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as wage incentives alone may not be enough.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia president Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj said the government’s wage incentives announced yesterday for the private sector may keep some SMEs afloat but may fail to resuscitate the majority of them.
Because of that, he said, the government needed to introduce strategies to create work, especially in the green economy, and draw up policies to ensure 90% of jobs in every sector are given to Malaysians.
Those retrenched, he said, could be given training to build and work at landfills, cleaning rivers, making solar panels and taking part in production of food for local consumption.
“Create jobs at the district level in the green economy and construction that are useful for the environment and that will benefit the people,” he said.
“If they cannot be employed for full one month, at least they can be employed for three weeks. We have to think of ways for people to put food on the table,” he said.
Jeyakumar said although yesterday’s stimulus package gave six months’ job security for those earning RM4,000 and less, there was no assurance that SMEs would not close down.
He said he disagreed with the call by Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon to introduce an emergency employment regulation to make retrenchment illegal for a stipulated period of time.
He said he understood that workers were at the mercy of their employers as the government had given them the green light to renegotiate the workers’ employment contracts, including an option for salary deductions and unpaid leave during the MCO.
He urged those earning RM4,000 to RM8,000 to help their companies to survive by coming up with amicable agreements “so that the companies can still continue their operations and the staff will still have jobs”.
He said if the employers wanted to cut staff salaries, they could “perhaps work up a six-month plan for lesser pay during the six-month loan moratorium”.
However, Jeyakumar said workers should refer employers to the Industrial Court if they made unrealistic demands.
Meanwhile, Laurence Todd, a director at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said the government needed to support SMEs to adapt to new ways of doing business in these unprecedented times.
“Since social distancing will be in place for the next six months, companies need to change their work culture,” he said, adding that training should be held for companies to move to electronic payroll and other services involving digitalisation.
Todd said strategies to sell product services online should be a main focus at the moment so that workers could venture into new businesses.
Govt needs to ensure employers, workers stay in business, says lawyer
Lawyer S Muhendran said the government may have to pump in more funds to stop employers resorting to retrenching workers or close their business.
Muhendran, who represents workers in industrial disputes, said the government could utilise the funds parked under the various agencies in the human resources ministry.
“This is the first step the government needs to look into to ensure continued employment for workers, and also to ensure that employers are in business,” he said.
Commenting on the suggestion by Solomon for the government to introduce an emergency employment regulation to make retrenchment illegal for a specific period, he said the proposal looked good on paper but doubted its practicality.
“When companies do not have the financial means to sustain, management will close their operations and all employees will suffer,” he said.
Usually, he said, companies would employ the “last in first out” policy should they decide to carry out retrenchment exercises.
“A company will remain in business, only that it will use less workforce to sustain itself,” he said.
Muhendran, however, said employers should not force their workers to take a salary cut, renegotiate the employment contract or ask them to take unpaid leave.
“Such workers then have a remedy for unlawful dismissal under the Industrial Relations Act,” he said.
First published in Free Malaysia Today, 7 April 2020