KUALA LUMPUR | Several teachers at a culinary school here claim their company cut their salaries by half without their consent after experiencing financial hardships caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

According to them, the company pays some 15 trainers at its Kuala Lumpur branch about RM3,000 a month.

Three of them who spoke to FMT said the pay cuts began gradually, with RM400 in transport and performance allowance taken away when the movement control order (MCO) was implemented in mid-March.

“We did not mind the transport allowance being taken away since we couldn’t attend classes in person,” one of them said.

“We were told to carry out online classes, which was still work. Then on May 14, we received a memo saying that salaries would be cut by 50% from May 1.”

When some of them objected, he said, they were told that they were not contributing anything to the company during the MCO period.

“A 50% cut from a RM3,000 salary is a lot when you have rent of RM1,100 to pay,” he said, adding that the managers had been spared the pay cut.

He also said staff members were told to take several days’ annual leave when the MCO was first announced, to allow the company to carry out “housekeeping” work.

Permission needed

Bar Council Industrial and Employment Law Committee co-chairman P Jayasingam said any move to cut salaries without consent would be illegal.

Speaking to FMT, he said pay cuts are only permissible if the staff in question agrees.

He said staff earning below RM5,000 who wished to keep their jobs but still get their full salaries could lodge a complaint with the Labour Department.

Those earning RM5,000 would have to file a civil suit against their company to recover their full salaries.

Jayasingam said they could also resign in protest and demand to be re-employed and paid their full salaries beginning from the day of their resignation.

“But they would have to clearly state that they are resigning under protest for not getting their salaries in full as their company had breached their contract,” he added.

In such cases, employees must resign immediately and file a case at the Industrial Court within 60 days.

For companies, he said, those with money issues could opt for retrenchment provided that they meet strict requirements.

This includes proving that the jobs were redundant, with the “last in, first out” principle applied.

Fellow Bar Council Industrial and Employment Law Committee deputy co-chair Bernard Scott said companies facing trouble with salaries should discuss any pay cuts with their workers.

“Mutual adjustments may need to be made to the employment terms and income,” he said, adding that workers who insist on keeping to the current terms in their contracts may find themselves out of a job.

Former human resources minister M Kula Segaran said Labour Department offices should call up companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to see if they are having problems paying their staff.

If companies could prove they were going through hardships, he said, the government should offer them assistance.

“Some SMEs are suffering. The statistics department reported that 53% of them will have trouble paying their workers.”

However, he also warned of companies which were cutting salaries and blaming the move on the MCO.

“In reality, they are just closing shop to carry out renovation works.”