Shorter work week for KL firms

Some firms to operate on 3-day week in bid to stave off retrenchments 

By Hazlin Hassan, The Straits Times

MALAYSIA will allow businesses to shorten their work week to three days, hoping to save jobs in the face of falling demand for exports that has closed several factories. 

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said that about 10,000 workers have already lost their jobs in Malaysia this year, and warned of more to come.

But the government said yesterday that fewer working hours or days could help avoid further job cuts.

'It is the duty of the department to ensure that workers were adequately protected and at the same time, companies did not lose out,' said Datuk Ismail Abdul Rahim, the director-general for labour.

He told Bernama news agency that it was necessary for employers to get the consent of workers before taking action, because reduced hours would mean cuts in salaries.

Industry experts say many companies have already starting implementing such measures. MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said that some companies have even asked employees to take a whole month off.

'It is part of steps taken by companies in order to avoid retrenchment,' he told The Straits Times. 'Workers are not expected to come in at all, but they are maintained as employees.'

Malaysian law requires companies to pay employees for at least 12 days in every 28 days. 'Otherwise, the employee would be defined as having been terminated,' Mr Shamsuddin said.

Some companies have encouraged employees to take two to three weeks' leave during the Chinese New Year period, instead of just the two public holidays mandated by the government, he said.

Companies started doing this during the Christmas period, he said.

Datuk Wong Siew Hai, chairman of the Malaysian American Electronics Industry, the electronics industry committee of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, said most companies in the industry were already implementing similar measures, hoping to 'save costs without letting talented people go'.

'There is always hope that things will turn around,' he told The Straits Times. 'They will do this for as long as they can tolerate the costs. Retrenchment is always a last resort.'

This was preferable to letting employees go, as the cost of rehiring and retraining new workers was just as high.

Industry experts say that the electrical and electronics industries that account for 40 per cent of Malaysian exports have been the worst hit by the downturn.

Reports say that Japanese electronics giant Panasonic will close two of its three Malaysian plants, while United States disk-drive company Western Digital will close a plant employing 1,500 workers. Semiconductor company Intel is also closing two assembly plants.

Last week, Human Resources Minister S.Subramaniam announced that some 45,000 workers would be laid off in the coming months. Those working in textiles and construction have also been affected by sluggish sales.

Malaysia's unemployment rate is 3.3 per cent, according to the latest data.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi yesterday said that unemployed Malaysians should not be picky about the jobs they take up in these tough times.

'We want the locals to also venture into the employment sectors which rely on foreign workers,' he told reporters. 'We should not be choosy at a time when we are in need of jobs and income.'

Datuk Seri Abdullah also said that the manufacturing sector should no longer employ foreigners.

'We should give priority to the locals,' he said. 'It is not wrong or an act of injustice when we give priority to our own people.'