Local workers adapt to new routines

Asrul says his four children are his main motivation to keep working at the market despite the hard, physical labour.

MALAYSIANS are finding new ways to respond to the financial crunch caused by business closures during the movement control order (MCO).

Finding themselves out of work, they are stepping out of their comfort zone to take on jobs many would consider dirty and dangerous.

Among them is Asrul Rizal Ariffin, a 42-year-old fitness instructor who found himself struggling to provide for his family when the gym he worked at stopped operating when the MCO took effect.

The father-of-four, whose monthly income was commission-based, said the situation got worse when his wife, also a fitness instructor, found herself in the same boat.

“For three months, our family was without any income. There was a great deal of uncertainty as we did not know when gyms would be allowed to resume operations.

“We were worried because we had financial commitments such as rental payment and car loans, ” he said.

It was early this month that Asrul decided to take up work at Pasar Borong Kuala Lumpur in Selayang, thanks to his friend’s advice.

“Instead of staying at home and not doing anything while waiting for the Government’s assistance, I decided to work here and earn an income.

Mau (left), a former IT system designer, now moves boxes of fresh produce at the market daily to earn an income for his family.Mau (left), a former IT system designer, now moves boxes of fresh produce at the market daily to earn an income for his family.

“Although the work is more difficult compared to what I am used to, I have to think of my children, ” said Asrul.

He admitted that some people viewed the job as menial labour but he was undeterred by such perception.

“I pushed aside that negative thought and did not let it affect me, ” he said.

Asked if he would resume his work as a fitness instructor once gyms reopened, he said it depended on whether he could secure enough clients.

Gyms nationwide have been allowed to operate again since Monday under the recovery MCO, albeit with strict guidelines in place.

The fitness instructor was among many locals who filled up the vacancies left behind by foreigners at the market.

This followed the Government’s decision to disallow foreign workers from working at markets after many Covid-19 cases were detected among them.

The area around Pasar Borong Kuala Lumpur was placed under enhanced MCO from April 28 to May 12 due to the high number of Covid-19 cases among foreign workers.

Jobless and desperate

StarMetro spoke to several other locals who had taken up employment at the market, who explained that they were desperate after the MCO left them jobless and without an income.

New hire Mau Sau Yoong, 42, said he was retrenched from his previous job as the company ran into cash flow problems shortly after the MCO was implemented.

“I used to work with an IT firm in Sri Hartamas. We were not paid any compensation when we were let go because we were just contract employees, ” he said.

Despite the challenges of his new work, the former IT system designer said thinking about his elderly parents, who relied on him for financial support, motivated him to power through.

“During the first few days, I felt really drained and my body was aching all over, but I had to toughen myself up.

“After a few days, I managed to adapt to the routine. My advice to anyone who wants to work here is to prepare yourself mentally.

“If your boss scolds you for making a mistake, do not take it personally. It is all part of the learning experience, ” he said, adding that his daily tasks included moving boxes of fresh produce from lorries at the market, maintaining the stall’s cleanliness and attending to customers.

Mau said he would also sign up for voluntary participation under Employees Provident Fund (EPF) as it was not covered by his employer.

For Kumaran Maikel, 40, from Cheras, although work at the market is harder than his previous job, he has no choice as he is desperate to earn an income.

“I used to drive a lorry transporting luggage and supplies for the tourism sector. But the sector has been badly hit since the MCO came into effect.

“I was paid my full salary of RM1,200 for March but my pay was then reduced to only RM700 the following month.

“How is my family going to survive on that meagre amount? That was when I decided to quit and try my luck here, ” said the father of two.

Maikel said he was offered a daily rate of RM80, to be paid every 10 days.

“Although there is no overtime payment here, unlike in my previous job, at least I can still earn some money to support my family, ” he said.

Kumaran (left) quit his previous job and took up work at the market when his former employer cut his salary by almost half.Kumaran (left) quit his previous job and took up work at the market when his former employer cut his salary by almost half.

Meanwhile, Faizal Razali, 35, said although workload at the market was heavy, workers were compensated fairly.

“Workers here are paid a daily rate of RM50 to RM80, depending on their workload. But it also depends on the stall’s profits.

“Some workers opted to be paid daily, while others chose weekly and monthly payment. But we do not get EPF benefits, ” he said.

Faizal said locals should follow the example set by foreign workers who came to work in Malaysia.

“These people sacrificed everything to come here to work and make a living. If they can make it, what is our excuse?” he said.

Another new hire who only wanted to be known as Lim, 50, said he was no stranger to hard, physical labour.

“I used to work at a nursery before it was closed due to the MCO. Since then my family has been strapped for cash.

“Luckily my wife was still able to earn an income from her work as a cleaner. I took this job to support our family, ” he said.

Endurance and passion

Stall owner Sam Ooi, 57, said physical endurance was crucial if new hires were to last at the market.

“There were locals who only worked for two hours before giving up because they could not handle the workload.

“Foreigners did not have this problem as they were used to the heavy workload, ” he said, adding that some locals also demanded a higher salary.

“Some locals asked to be paid a daily rate of RM100 but this is impossible because many stalls are not making much profit compared to before the MCO, ” he said.

Another owner Mohd Hafizi Mohd Roduan agreed, adding that foreigners were willing to do the same amount of work for less pay.

“Many locals are unable to shoulder the load but are asking for higher pay, ” he complained.

Owner Yap Kok Mung, 47, said workers should not focus solely on the salary, but must also have passion for the work.

“There is a misconception that this job is difficult, but it is not. You must be passionate about it, only then will you be able to work properly, ” he said, adding that there were two shifts at the market — the morning shift (10am to 7pm) and night shift (midnight to 7am).

Yap welcomed the Government’s directive that only allowed locals to work at the market.

“Some of the foreigners entered the country without valid work permits. It is good that the Immigration Department and the police rounded them up.

“This market is also much cleaner now after Kuala Lumpur City Hall cleaned it up, ” he said.

Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa announced on May 20 that the Government was looking into providing better facilities in a bid to attract more locals to work at the market.

These included hostels for the workers and bigger floor space for the traders.

He said solar panels would also be installed to supply electricity and that sullage (waste water from activities such as washing) from the market would be treated.

“We received feedback that many locals were not interested in taking up a job there due to the ‘dirty and dangerous’ surroundings.

“It is important to address this issue because we cannot continue to rely on foreign workers, ” he was quoted as saying.

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