Staff confused and lost, says Utusan Melayu union chairman

NUJ chairman for Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd Mohd Taufeq Razak says the decision to stop operating came as a shock.

KUALA LUMPUR: National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chairman for Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd Mohd Taufeq Razak has expressed frustration over the sudden announcement of the company’s closure today.

Taufeq told a press conference today that all 862 members of the staff were in a state of confusion over what is happening and why they were informed of the shutdown at the last minute.

“The way Utusan chose to inform us is inhumane. They did not give us any kind of notice,” Taufeq said.

He said this morning none of the higher-ups showed up at the headquarters, leaving it to the department heads to talk to the staff.

“We don’t know when they will pay us – our salary for September is still on hold. We don’t know what kind of compensation we’ll get.”

A woman worker breaks down after clearing her desk at Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd.

Earlier today, it was announced that Utusan will cease operations of all three of its main publications today. The staff were asked to clear their desks within two days.

Taufeq said the daily is ceasing operations because Utusan’s building had been confiscated and the liquidators were present to ensure the company closes as smoothly as possible.

He added the staff will be considered to be still working until the end of October, but all staff have been put on leave from today.

On Oct 30, the liquidators will call back all staff members to inform them of Utusan’s current position and whether it can still continue operating or the staff have to be let go with the appropriate compensation.

“None of the staff have received termination letters, only a memo informing that the company will cease operations from today. So, we will have to wait till Oct 30 to decide our next step,” Taufeq said.

The paper had often been criticised for its uncomplimentary coverage of opposition leaders during the Barisan Nasional administration.

Maro, Utusan Malaysia’s cartoonist for 24 years, drawing his famous comic strip character ‘Mamak Cyber’ for his colleagues before clearing his desk.

Since Utusan started facing issues last year, Taufeq said NUJ had been trying to get Umno to let go of its shares because they had expected something like a shutdown to happen if Umno is still involved.

“We have tried to beg the Utusan higher-ups for a long time to break ties with Umno so that we will not be under its political influence,” he added.

Mairiatul Qatia Zakaria, an Utusan reporter for 17 years, said she was at a loss at what she is supposed to do now, unclear of whether she should start hunting for another job or wait for Utusan to tell them if they can remain with the company.

She said they had never expected the company to shut down completely, even when they were not paid their salaries on time.

An Utusan photographer, who wished to remain anonymous, working at Utusan for 13 years, told FMT that he felt a mixture of anger and sadness at the sudden news.

“I can’t just wait for them (Utusan). I have to start job-hunting now – I have a family to feed,” he said.

“I just want to know when they are going to pay us the salary for September.”

Meanwhile, Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said retrenched Utusan workers can seek assistance from the Employment Insurance System (SIP) under the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

“Under the SIP, for six months (after being dismissed), the workers will be given some payments of salary.

“During that time, SIP will also help them look for alternative employment. It will also get employers to interview these people,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby today.

Kula suggested that the Utusan management reconsider its decision to cease operations and let others buy over the company.

He said the newspaper company should look into alternative solutions as the decision would impact the livelihood of its employees.