Reeling from Covid, Mustafa Centre to send home its foreign staff
Employees not called in to work will stop getting 'sustenance allowance', urged to take on a second job
Mustafa Centre will send home its foreign workers whose work passes have expired as its business has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company will also stop a "sustenance allowance" for employees who have not been called in to work - believed to be $300 a month - and urged this group of staff to take on a second job to earn an income.
In a letter addressed to all employees of Mustafa group and its related companies, managing director and founder Mustaq Ahmad said the company is unable to renew the work passes of its foreign workers and will pay for their ticket home.
It will give these foreign workers a token sum of a month's basic salary, he said in the letter dated last Thursday and seen by The Straits Times yesterday.
"We regret to have to resort to these decisions but hope that business will come back to normal as soon as possible," he added.
The Mustafa group did not get back to ST on how many of its local and foreign staff are affected by the measures.
In the letter, Mr Mustaq said the company will stop paying the sustenance allowance - given to staff since June - from Oct 1 as it needs to reduce payroll costs.
Business has been badly affected by the coronavirus, he said, noting that not all employees can return to work due to reduced opening hours and strict safe distancing measures at the popular shopping mall.
"We do not expect our business to return to the pre-Covid days as our international borders are all closed. It will take longer than expected," he added.
A manager at the store, who did not want to be identified, said business has plummeted to just 20 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.
Tourists and foreign workers used to be the store's main customer base, and they have "all but disappeared", said the manager.
Mr Mustaq, who noted that some employees have begun finding jobs elsewhere, said the company will waive notice periods for resignations and give those who resign a month's basic salary as a token of appreciation.
The company is also working with the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers Union, the Employment and Employability Institute and National Trades Union Congress to help its staff find jobs, he said.
The woes of the six-storey mall in Syed Alwi Road in Little India began after it was identified as a Covid-19 cluster and closed on April 2. It is believed to have been the starting point for thousands of infections in foreign worker dormitories.
Workers were likely infected after visiting the centre, where some employees had fallen ill, and they set off a chain of infections among co-workers and dormitory mates.
Mustafa Centre reopened on May 6 from 9.30am to 11.30pm daily, with the intention of resuming its trademark 24-hour operations soon after. But almost four months later, the mall has not done so, owing to high operational costs and a lack of cash flow due to the drop in business.
While there were still some shoppers in the store when ST visited Mustafa Centre yesterday, it was noticeably less busy, with no queueing needed to enter the premises.
Sundays were typically the busiest days for Mustafa Centre, with many foreign workers shopping there on their day off.
But this source of business has been largely shut down, with most workers in dormitories confined to their quarters due to Covid-19.
Staff of Mustafa Centre told ST yesterday they do not know which colleagues were being sent home but added that footfall at the mall is a far cry from what it used to be.
The manager said: "Without these tourists and foreigners, it is unlikely we can stay open or keep working for much longer."
Other businesses in Little India, including eateries, jewellers, money changers and textile shops, are also reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
Mr K. Ramamoorthy, who runs an Internet cafe, said many of his neighbours have shuttered, and he fears his business might be next.
"We are almost going to have to close soon because there are no tourists or foreign workers to pay us," he said.
In May, the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry set up a task force to help affected businesses.
The chamber said on its Facebook page that it held a walkabout in the area on Saturday and plans to reach out to about 300 businesses by the end of next month to spread the word about the various schemes and support measures they can tap.