For Malaysia’s most vulnerable income group, cash, steady pay remain focus throughout shutdown

Danial Dzulkifly And Soo Wern Jun
A general view of the Kota Damansara People’s Housing Project March 20, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, March 24 — The recently announced nationwide movement control order (MCO) by the government has left many in lower-income households vulnerable to its economic impact amidst an already challenging financial climate.

While many Malaysians, in general, have been stocking up on food and other necessities, lower-income families are more concerned with whether they will have enough funds to last the next two weeks, as many that Malay Mail spoke to stated that most of their incomes go towards day-to-day expenditure with little savings to act as a buffer.

Some also worry about their incomes and even job security in the coming weeks as companies might engage in extensive cost-cutting measures such as layoffs or even close their operations altogether to cut their losses.

Income insecurity for low-income households

Taxi driver Mohamad Rashid Mohd Haniff speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at the Puteri Laksamana low-cost apartment blocks in Batu Caves March 20, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

For Mohamad Rashid Mohd Haniff, 47, he said that the situation has been dire for labourers and those who are paid on a daily basis in the country.

“It’s a sad situation for all Malaysians, especially for labourers, those who earn daily wages.  

“People like me, I don’t get anything if I don’t go out,” said Rashid when met by Malay Mail at the Puteri Laksamana low-cost apartment blocks in Batu Caves.  

The 47-year-old taxi driver said, on average, he can make at least RM120 a day, but with the MCO in place, even if he went out to look for passengers, there would be none.  

 ”Since nobody is allowed on the streets, there are not many customers. So there is no point going out and wasting fuel without any returns,” he said.  

Apart from vehicle and house rental, Rashid said he is the sole breadwinner in a household of five.  

“As laborers, we hope that the government can come up with some aid to help us. I’m not sure if labourers who earn daily wages can last through the entire 14 days without any income since we cannot go out to work,” he added.  

In the rather serene environment, several children were seen cycling around the neighbourhood, almost oblivious to the MCO.  

When approached, one of them said he was not afraid since no Covid-19 positive case had been detected in the neighbourhood.  

“Not scared. Here got no coronavirus,” he replied.

Company clerk, Sakhilah Bashar Mohammad expressed her concern over the substantive economic impact of the MCO and even the Covid-19 outbreak, which could see many wage-earners lose their jobs if the nationwide shutdown were to be prolonged.

“Many of us were told to take two weeks off following the MCO order. Everyone is taking the matter seriously and complying with the order. However, many are genuinely worried about what will happen after the MCO is lifted.

“We only hope that the order is not extended so that we can resume our daily routines and business can continue as usual,’’ she said to Malay Mail when met at the Gugusan Kekwa flats in Kota Damansara.

Former factory worker Roman speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Kota Damansara March 20, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

A former factory worker who only wished to be known as Roman, 71, said he was worried about his two children who are working in the financial services sector, which is notorious for employee layoffs and extensive cost-cutting measures.

“Both of my kids are still staying with me as they don’t earn much but at least they are employed; for that, I am thankful enough.

“But working in that sector, they are at the bottom of the chain and most likely will be let go if their employers decided to cut costs. It is a constant worry because everyone is so badly affected by the outbreak,” said Roman.

According to the Ministry of Human Resource’ list of Frequently Asked Questions on the MCO, it requires employers to bear the full salary amount of their employees, according to the prior employment contract agreement.

“Employers are also not allowed to force employees to utilise their annual leave or take unpaid leave as the MCO is done under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342),” the ministry said.

Solutions to help the B40

Voicing several challenges faced by constituents, Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil said under his constituency, there are six Public Housing Projects (PPR), and all are affected by the MCO.  

“I’m not so worried over those who reside in areas where they are in the middle 40 per cent (M40) group. I think they can still sustain throughout the 14 days.  

 ”It is the bottom 40 per cent (B40) population who are badly affected. Many of them are daily wage earners, such as roadside stall operators,” he said.  

He also pointed out that, currently, there is no existing aid by the government to help this group of wage earners.  

 ”By my observation, just in front of my office, there are about 30 stalls. They are dependent on their stall businesses, but are not allowed to open during this period,” he said.  

 At the moment, Fahmi’s office is identifying families who are in dire need of aid during the MCO period where they are unable to work due to their non-essential services job nature.  

“I just got to know of a case today, a constituent who is at the bottom tier of the M40. He will be evicted today by his landlord because he can’t pay his rent. That is how bad things have become during the MCO,” he said.  

Fahmi has also proposed for the following aid to be considered by the respective authorities:  

  • The Federal Territories Religious Affairs Council (MAIWP) Baitulmal to provide RM300 one-off disaster relief for 22,000 victims, totalling RM6.6 million;
  • The Welfare Department to provide RM200 ‘one-off’ disaster relief to about 450,000 recipients nationwide, totalling RM90 million; and  
  • The Federal Territories Ministry or Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to provide RM500 ‘one-off’ disaster relief for 13,000 street vendors in Kuala Lumpur, totalling RM6.5 million.

“Many of us were told to take two weeks off following the MCO order. Everyone is taking the matter seriously and complying with the order. However, many are genuinely worried about what will happen after the MCO is lifted,” Fahmi said.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that Malaysians are now allowed to withdraw a maximum of RM500 monthly from their EPF savings to buy essential goods amid the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

The move was however criticised, with Pakatan Harapan urging Putrajaya to instead disburse additional aid of RM1,000 twice in March and April to recipients of the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) financial aid, while several economists slammed the federal government for still worrying about a balanced budget

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