Most Malaysian companies struggling under movement control curbs, unemployment at a 10-year high

In the survey, 67.8 per cent of companies said that they did not make any money during the MCO. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Most companies said they were unable to pay beyond two months' worth of wages to their employees, while two-thirds of companies did not earn any income during Malaysia's movement control order (MCO).

According to an online survey of 4,094 companies nationwide by the Statistics Department from April 10 to May 1, 53.4 per cent of companies said they would not last beyond two months if they provided paid or half-paid leave to workers during the MCO, while 16.5 per cent said they would last less than a month.

Meanwhile, 67.8 per cent of companies said that they did not make any money during the MCO.

The unemployment rate hit a 10-year high in March, with about 610,500 jobless, compared with 521,300 in the same month last year.

"The unemployment rate in March 2020 increased to 3.9 per cent. This high unemployment rate was mainly attributed to the adverse impact of the MCO on the labour market," said Chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin in a statement.

The unemployment figures are the highest since the 3.7 per cent recorded in June 2010.

The survey results reveal the pressures faced by employers after nearly two months of a partial lockdown since March 18, with Malaysia closing its borders and shuttering schools and non-essential businesses.

The debate over how quickly lockdown measures should be lifted, and by how much, is ongoing.

Fifty-seven chambers of commerce and industry associations in Malaysia said on Thursday (May 7) that it was "critical for businesses to resume operations nationwide", as they took an opposite stance to nine states that initially rebuffed the federal government's call to reopen most businesses from May 4.

On Thursday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department for Economy Mustapa Mohamed said the government was forced to restart the economy as the number of unemployed people was projected to triple to 1.8 million according to Bank Negara.

The highest unemployment rate ever recorded in Malaysia was 7.4 per cent in 1986.

Meanwhile, wholesale and retail sales fell 5.7 per cent in March against the same period last year to RM103.2 billion (S$33.6 billion).

Businesses today are hopeful after the government began relaxing the MCO on May 4, including allowing some retail shops in malls to reopen as long as they follow the government's mandatory coronavirus safety rules.

Approximately 35 per cent of stores have opened this week in KL's Pavilion mall in Bukit Bintang, with more expected to open gradually in the coming days, Datuk Joyce Yap, chief executive officer of retail, Pavilion KL, told The Straits Times.

As the market slowly resurrects, any sense of optimism has not caught on with people like Mr Zainudin Kamsari, 38, who lost his job as a writer when his company decided to close during the MCO.

"I feel sad and uncertain about the future, I don't know how to support myself on a daily basis. I have sent many job applications but so far, no response."

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