PETALING JAYA,Sept 23: Before the pandemic, Steven made a good living in Singapore as a forklift driver, one of many Malaysians who had crossed the causeway in search of better prospects and pay.
Now, he lives in Port Klang and relies on trips to the food bank to feed his wife and four children, the uncertainty brought on by Covid-19 looming over him and his family as they try desperately to make the most of the situation.
Steven is among 15,666 Malaysians reported by the Malaysian High Commission to have lost their jobs in Singapore as a result of the economic problems brought on by the republic’s “circuit breaker” period, the equivalent of Malaysia’s MCO.
Government officials have said that more support is needed to ensure Malaysians retrenched from jobs in Singapore get adequate support as they lack the social protections offered by those employed by local companies.
While Malaysian workers are typically protected by the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS), which offers replacement wages for those recently retrenched, this is only available for those hired by Malaysian companies, which leaves those working overseas without financial protection despite being Malaysian citizens.
Charles Santiago, the MP for Klang and chairman of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, says these people fall into the “informal sector” of workers, meaning they do not receive the benefits of those hired by Malaysian companies and are as vulnerable as freelancers and the self-employed.
“I have proposed to the government the development of a digital application that can be used to register people who are not in the formal sector and need support,” he told FMT.
His proposed app would be available on mobile devices and computers and would allow those working in the informal sector to apply for job-matching programmes and wage subsidy schemes.
Santiiago said failure to help these people would have ramifications on the nation’s economy but would affect Johor in particular.
“Chances are, many of these people were commuting from different parts of Johor,” he said. “And 15,000 people losing their jobs means their capacity to spend will decrease, which will have an impact on the small businesses and producers in Johor.
“The Johor government needs to be more responsible in taking care of its people.”
Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan instead suggests a job bank or federal job guarantee “because of how unprecedented and sudden job losses have become”.
“We could take the incremental route and suggest things like payouts equivalent to if they were on EIS, but ultimately all these approaches suffer from exclusion risks of some form,” he said.
His idea would require the government to assess the needs of the economy and create jobs in the sectors that are deemed in need of development.
“There’s a huge human and financial cost to sustaining unemployment,” he said. “It’s up to the government in its budget and 12th Malaysia Plan to decide whether it wants to be incremental, or truly spend on something that matters.”