Mustafa Centre to send back foreign workers whose work passes expire, stop paying some of its staff

The company will also stop paying employees who have not been called to work a "sustenance allowance". PHOTOS: JASON QUAH, ST READER

SINGAPORE - Mustafa Centre will send its foreign workers whose work passes have expired home as its business has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company will also stop paying employees who have not been called to work a "sustenance allowance" - believed to be $300 per month - and it 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 return ticket home.

It will give these foreign workers a month's basic salary as a token, said Mr Mustaq in the letter dated Aug 27 and seen by The Straits Times on Sunday (Aug 30).

"We regret to have to resort to these decisions but hope that businesses will come back to normal as soon as possible," said Mr Mustaq.

ST has contacted the Mustafa group for details of 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," Mr Mustaq added.

A manager at the store, who did not want to be identified, said business has plummeted to just 20 per cent of what it used to be before Covid-19.

Tourists and foreign workers used to be the store's main source of revenue, but they have "all but disappeared", said the manager.

Mr Mustaq, who noted that some staff members 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 (e2i) and NTUC to help its staff find jobs, he said.

ST has contacted the National Trades Union Congress for comment.

The woes of the six-storey mall along 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 coronavirus infections at 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.

Business at Mustafa Centre has been badly affected by the coronavirus. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Mustafa Centre reopened on May 6 with reduced opening hours from 9.30am to 11.30pm, with the intention of eventually resuming its trademark 24-hour operations.

But almost four months later, the mall has not done so, owing to high operational costs and a lack of cash flow due to a plummeting number of visitors.

While there were still some shoppers in the store when ST visited Mustafa Centre on Sunday, 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 at dormitories confined to their quarters due to Covid-19.

Several payment counters were unmanned and not in operation, with hardly any queues at the counters that were open.

A staff member serving a customer at Mustafa Centre on Aug 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Staff of Mustafa Centre who ST spoke to on Sunday said they were not aware of their colleagues who were being sent home, but added that footfall is a far cry from what it used to be.

Said the manager: "Without these tourists and foreigners, it is unlikely that we can stay open or keep working for much longer. Even though we can stay open for 24 hours now, there is no point, because there is nobody to come and shop."

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