This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Nov 23, 2013
Johor will return to observing Friday and Saturday as rest days next year, after two decades of having weekends on Saturday and Sunday.
The decision by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar, which was announced yesterday, came as no surprise. A document from a state government meeting on the plan was leaked on the Internet recently.
The new weekend in Johor, Malaysia’s third most industrialist state after Selangor and Penang, will start on Jan 3 next year.
“The decision was made following feedback from various quarters to allow Muslims to perform their religious obligation on Friday in a more peaceful manner,” the ruler said in a speech to celebrate his 55th birthday.
But Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said yesterday that the private sector had the option of following the state government or continuing to observe Saturday and Sunday as rest days.
“I don’t think with current rapid technological development, a switch in weekends will have a huge effect on the state’s economy,” he said.
Only three of Malaysia’s 13 states – Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, which have Malay majorities – now observe Friday and Saturday as rest days. Nearly 60 per cent of Johor’s 3.4 million people are Muslim.
Before 1994, the state’s weekend followed the Muslim calendar, with work days from Sunday to Thursday. But the policy was changed by then Menteri Besar Muhyiddin Yassin, now the Deputy Prime Minister, to make the business environment friendlier and attract investment.
Some opposition state assemblymen have voiced concern, saying the move would hamper business, especially in massive Iskandar economic zone which is aimed at attracting foreign investments from countries including Singapore.
It is unclear if banks based in Johor and international school students in Iskandar would be affected by the move.
Johor took in RM6.6 billion (S$2.6 billion) of a total of RM18.8 billion of foreign investment for Malaysia from January to August this year, the most for any state.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia approved a motion at its Congress yesterday to support the Sultan of Johor’s move.
In Singapore, Mrs Esther Koh, 57, a teacher assistant, expressed concern about the impact on travel to Johor, where she goes once a month to shop. “If I go on Fridays, there’s already a big jam at immigration and service is very slow.”
The move could also affect Mr Keith Toh, 28, a Malaysian engineer who commutes to work in Singapore from Monday to Friday.
“My wife works as a vet at a clinic in Johor Baru, so if she has to work on Sundays then it may be difficult for us to enjoy a full weekend off together,” he said.
But Mr Masdor Ramli, 41, a taxi driver from Batu Pahat, welcomed the change. “This is good news as everyone won’t have to rush around on Friday... They now have to go to the office, then run to the mosque, have a quick lunch and then go back to the office.”
One business that could benefit is the Legoland resort. The new weekend is expected to draw more visitors from Johor itself on Friday while others turn up on Sundays, the Malaysian Insider news website said yesterday.
Additional reporting by Joanna Seow