Singapore

Covid-19 measures taking a toll on Malaysian workers in Singapore

Many worry about their jobs as rules become more stringent on both sides of the Causeway

The hairstylist volunteered to take two weeks of unpaid leave in late March when his employer needed to reduce the staff strength to abide by safe distancing measures.

Then, just a few days after returning to work, the 27-year-old Malaysian was put on unpaid leave again following Tuesday's announcement that hair salons would be shut as they were no longer classified as an essential service.

He said the manager of the salon in Jurong told him that he would have to fend for himself.

Requesting anonymity, the man, who has worked here for five years, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "The cost of living in Singapore is very high. I'm not sure how I am going to afford food, groceries, and pay my rent when I won't get paid.

"If I stay here, I have to cope with the expenses. If I go back to Malaysia, I might not have a job to come back to. I feel queasy just thinking about how I can get through this period."

Many Malaysians working here are in a similar plight after the latest measures, which will be in force at least until May 4.

Other businesses affected by the new restrictions include standalone outlets selling mainly beverages, packaged snacks and confectioneries, opticians and pet shops.

Malaysian Association in Singapore (Masis) president Aarathi Arumugam said it had received over 200 inquiries from affected Malaysians since their country went into lockdown on March 18, and she expects the figure to rise with more businesses closed now.

Malaysia's movement control order (MCO), which was extended again yesterday to May 12, had mainly affected workers who commute daily between the two countries.

They had to either remain in Malaysia and risk getting fired or find accommodation here on their own or with their employers' help.

Ms Arumugam said many of them struggled to find affordable lodging after Singapore decided not to continue its temporary housing support for Malaysians beyond March 31.

More workers were affected by the circuit breaker measures introduced on April 7, with businesses not listed as essential services having to close, and the latest changes, which reduced the number of essential services.

'REALLY TOUGH'

Ms Arumugam told TNP: "It's really tough for them. About 10 per cent to 15 per cent were put on unpaid leave, and many decided to go back to Malaysia at risk of losing their jobs because they can't afford to stay here."

With the help of donors and Maybank, Masis, which has 500 members, has housed about 50 workers in hostels, hotels and serviced apartments.

A 35-year-old Malaysian gym instructor said he and his wife, also a gym trainer, decided to return to Malaysia on Sunday after the circuit breaker measures were extended to June 1.

The couple, who used to commute daily from Johor Baru, booked into a hotel in Little India after Malaysia's lockdown but later moved to a cheaper hotel in Clarke Quay.

Though they were paid their basic salaries after their respective gyms closed on April 7, they lost out on earning commission.

The trainer of three years, who declined to be named, added: "We are digging into our savings and simply can't stay here until June. I saw videos on Facebook of Malaysians sleeping in the streets here. I don't want us to end up like that."

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday warned employers of repercussions if they reduce their workers' salaries or put them on no-pay leave.

A spokesman for barbershop chain QB House said its staff will be getting their salaries, and only a "small number" of its Malaysian workers needed its assistance for accommodation.

Bubble tea chain Playmade had rented a Housing Board flat for three of its Malaysian workers who were affected by the MCO. The company, which employs 23 Malaysians, told TNP that its full-time employees at its nine outlets will be paid as usual.

A Playmade employee, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lynn, said she was mentally prepared for the closure of bubble tea shops and was comforted after learning she would be paid.

Even those working in essential services have been affected by the measures to fight Covid-19.

A screening officer at Changi Airport became her family's sole breadwinner when her younger brother working here had to take unpaid leave and return to Johor. His employer could not provide accommodation after the MCO was implemented.

Wanting to be known only as Ms Sasha, 41, she said she not only has to support her family of five now, but must also cover her 70-year-old father's hospital bills.

She is still paying rent for her Johor Baru apartment, which is now empty as she was initially provided accommodation here with the help of the Government and is now staying in a hotel with Masis' assistance.

Ms Sasha was in tears as she told TNP over the phone that her father was admitted to hospital with suspected dengue.

"My sister video-called me and I was crying and panicking. I just wanted to see my father.

"But everyone asked me to stay in Singapore since I am the only breadwinner. I just pray to God everyday and hope that things will get better," she said.

coronavirus