By J Solomon, MTUC secretary-general

Less than a day after the government unveiled a RM250 bil stimulus package, various business organisations and the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) have continued to raise the spectre of massive layoff and salary cutbacks.

The MEF, especially, has described the stimulus package as muddled and lacking in incentives to discourage private companies from retrenching workers.

The SME sector has derided the package as inadequate to address the cash flow and salary costs faced by the companies impacted by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Employers and companies are using the threat of imposing retrenchments and salary cuts for workers solely for their own vested interest, be it to squeeze more financial aid from the government or simply to downsize to save costs as a quick fix to their bottom-line.

It is a undisputed fact that members of the MEF, SME companies and thousands of other business entities in Malaysia have been reaping profits continuously for many years.

In many cases, the profits were accumulated by keeping wages low and in many cases, hiring foreign workers to further ensure labour costs were supressed so that profits could be maintained or increased.

These very same employers and companies are now claiming they will fold and be forced to retrench workers by the thousands if the government does not increase its financial assistance to them.

They are ramping up such claims after just a matter of weeks since the Covid 19 economic fallout begun.  It does not make sense that overnight, these companies are proclaiming themselves as so financially fragile despite raking in healthy profits over the years.

The assertions by the SMEs and the MEF that they will fold up in the next few months due to the Covid 19 economic meltdown is done mainly to gain public sympathy. However, there is no data forthcoming  to prove they are in any immediate danger of folding up and need to retrench workers or cut their salaries.

Indeed there is no justification for them to do so. The stimulus package provides RM100 billion ringgit worth of soft loans and other incentives to companies, including SMEs. There is even a multi billion ringgit fund to pay RM600 monthly to workers of companies suffering more than 50% dip in business.

Looking at the government package earmarked for them, coupled with their own healthy profits over the years, MTUC feels that most companies will be able to sustain their operations without retrenching workers or cutting their salaries.

It is inconceivable that larger SMEs have not prepared themselves financially to face even three months of low revenue as it smacks of poor management and exposes them as employers who are only interested in stashing profits away.

Workers on the ground are asking how many employers and company directors are themselves biting the bullet in facing the current economic challenges.  Have CEOs, senior management and directors offered to forgo their annual dividends, bonuses and other benefits before making threats to reduce their workforce or cut their salaries?

We urge employers to refrain from making it sound as if they started their companies solely to provide jobs. The companies are mainly for profits and to generate profits, they employ workers. It is a symbiotic relationship. Business cannot survive without workers.

Having made profits with the blood, sweat and tears of workers, it is time to treat them with respect so that they are there when situation returns to normal.

At the very least, employers and companies should ‘try out’ the stimulus package, before being quick to throw in the towel and threaten to cut salaries or worse, retrench workers who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Such antics or theatrics must be stopped immediately to prevent widespread panic among workers and their families. If unchecked, such threats by employers will also undermine the already weak economy.

There is plenty of history to show that it will be fool hardy for the government to expect employers to voluntarily pledge to not to lay off workers during the current Emergency, even with all the help rendered to the companies thus far.

As such, MTUC reiterates its call to the government to immediately introduce a ministerial order on job security to make it illegal for any employer to retrench workers or cut their salaries arbitrarily.

The Minister of Human Resources must take the lead and use his powers to introduce the Emergence Employment Regulation and make it mandatory for companies to undergo strict vetting before they are permitted to touch on workers rights, including their job security and related benefits.

Only by requiring companies to furnish the required data, will the government stop employers from using their workers as a form of blackmail to gain more financial aid from the government.

The government must consider introducing punitive punishment against employers who are quick to cut salaries and retrench workers while at the same time receive millions of ringgit in aid from the government stimulus package. This is morally repungent and a form of economic treason against Malaysia.