We have become poorer, live with it


  • Nation
  • Monday, 27 Apr 2020

UNLESS you're in the trades of selling masks, surgical gloves, ventilators and supplying boxes for food deliveries, you could likely find yourself much poorer, like the rest of us.

And if you haven't had your pay docked, gone on unpaid leave or at least been asked to clear your annual leave, it only means you likely make up the demographic working in the civil service or for employers with excessively deep pockets.

Nearly five weeks of the Movement Control Order here has served a sobering dose of reality. But it's the same all around the world, too, as businesses manage the effects of the lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, a list of hotels in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Perak forced to shut down or had asked its staff to take pay cuts, began to make its rounds on social media.

Hundreds of budget hotels around the country are also running the risk of ceasing operations as owners struggle to settle their rent and other operating costs against zero revenue.

Workers in hospitality, including tourist operators, felt the financial wrecking ball first and hardest. They can't be looking at any form of near-future fortunes because the turn-around could, at best, be early next year. Airline staff face sooner misfortunes even.

Most Malaysians have found their income downsized, and the scale could only tip by our depreciating ringgit, with foodstuffs becoming more expensive eventually.

So, even if the MCO is lifted by the end of May, businesses will still struggle to get moving.

There will be lower demand for any form of supplies, and delivery will continue to be a problem.

The pay cuts for most companies isn't just for the next three months. In most situations, the trimmed salaries will last until December, so that employers can ensure it has meaningful impact.

While larger companies with stronger financial positions can spare those in the lower earning bracket, it's much more difficult for small and medium size businesses to pull that off.

The government aid may be a relief for some, especially in the next few months, but it may just be too late for most SMEs to be kept afloat.

The biggest problem for many businessmen is collecting revenue from clients, who themselves, are in the same predicament. It's just a sickening, vicious circle.

If small-time bosses can't collect payment, then they can't pay their workers, it's that simple. And releasing their staff is the hardest part because the workforce is the asset.

Running a business isn't a charitable cause, and even non-governmental organisations need to source a revenue stream to pay their full-time staff.

The situation is far worse when workers refuse to accept pay cuts by ignoring calls to make voluntary sacrifices, because they are only making it harder for their employers to sustain their businesses.

Employers have been forced to rethink their spending to keep their heads above water, and invariably, staff wages are high up on the list of priorities.

Once these workers lose their jobs, life will be harder because most employers have halted hiring.

The moral of the story is, it's better to hold on to our jobs, with lesser pay, than to accelerate the end of days of our companies.

In some big corporations, those at the highest levels have found their salaries slashed by between 40 and 50%, with the scale and quantum for the rest proportioned accordingly.

Becoming poorer not only means cutting down on meals in restaurants, but eating simpler at home, too. So, stop grumbling and be grateful there is still food on the table.

Many will remove non-essential expenses, reduce fixed expenses, defer holidays, reschedule loan payments, review insurance schedules, downgrade credit cards with annual fees, and freeze or terminate club memberships. But seriously, let's take stock of our pantry first.

The last thing we should worry isn't about getting out of our homes, but whether we'll still have jobs.

We'll just have to live simpler from now on because we'll be shorter on the sen.

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