Nearly 100 picket at Utusan office over unpaid wages

Current and former Utusan Melayu employees protest outside the main office in Kuala Lumpur today.

KUALA LUMPUR: Nearly 100 current and former employees of Utusan Melayu Bhd demonstrated in front of the daily’s main office here today, claiming the company had failed to pay them their wages for one and a half months now.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Taufik Razak, who was present at the gathering, said he had attended a meeting earlier with Utusan’s management and executive chairman.

He said he was informed that the company has no funds to pay either overdue or current wages, and claimed it could face closure within weeks.

“This is because they do not have any money and have failed to sell off their assets,” Taufik, who is also Utusan NUJ branch chairman, said.

NUJ claimed earlier this month that Utusan, which publishes Malay dailies Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo, owes salaries to 769 workers, with complaints of delays in payments and claims since January.

“Even Umno has not given any information on keeping Utusan alive because Umno also has no money,” Taufik said.

“So I’m pleading with Umno and Umno members to help us workers who have helped them in the past, and to look at our condition.”

Taufik claimed Utusan had been unable to sell off its assets in part because many of its buildings do not have a certificate of fitness.

Consequently, he said, the management has to wait for approval from the authorities before they can sell these assets.

“You can imagine how bad Utusan’s management was – they thought Umno would always stay in power,” he added.

Nik Mohd Hasmazi, who has worked as a graphic designer at Utusan for 23 years, said employees were like flood victims who must resort to financial aid for daily necessities.

He said it is especially difficult for him as a father when his son asks him for money for allowance.

“My son, who is in Form 3, even asked me to give him RM5 instead of the usual RM7 because he wants to help me.

“We love the company, that’s why we have not left it. Even though we have not been paid, we have not abandoned the work.”

Malaysian Trades Union Congress secretary-general J Solomon, who was also present, claimed there had been a lack of effort by the management in selling off the company’s assets.

“Even if they can’t sell their properties, they must find a way to mortgage the properties to at least pay the salaries of the 200 workers involved,” he said.

He also called for a revamp of the editorial board, saying journalists should not be blamed for following instructions.

Likewise, he urged the government to intervene, saying Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and prime-minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim were once supported by Utusan as well.