KUCHING: The Sarawak Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has criticised the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) for prioritising profits, particularly during this time when the nation is hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Sunday, MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan had said the statement by Defence Minister Ismail Sabri that all private sector employers must pay their workers’ salary during the two weeks of the movement control order (MCO) had “no force of law”.
“There is the question of whether employers are legally obliged to pay salaries throughout the 14-day MCO.
“This is a situation of force majeure, a frustration of contract, an event that is beyond the reasonable control of either employer or employee. In this kind of situation, either party has the right to nullify the contract,” Shamsuddin said.
However, Sarawak MTUC secretary Andrew Lo said MEF was wrong to say this as it could instigate employers to break the law by forcing employees to take unpaid leave.
“Worse, it will pressure employees to ‘volunteer’ for unpaid leave.”
He said force majeure only applied if there was such a clause in the contract and most employment contracts did not have such a clause.
“It cannot be implied. Any nullification of the contract must be in strict compliance with such a clause, if any.
“Employers cannot rely on the frustration of contract — the period of two weeks, even four weeks, is not long enough and one has to show the job is impossible to be carried out,” he said in a statement.
Lo said currently, employers and employees are making alternative arrangements, such as working from home, on shifts or on rotation.
“Shamsuddin also claimed that under the Employment Act, wages are to be paid for work done.
“However, he conveniently did not mention that it is employers’ legal obligation to ensure that employees are given the job they are employed for.
“Is he challenging workers to file claims for constructive dismissal?”
Therefore, Lo urged MEF and its member companies to look beyond their self interest and to follow the example of other responsible companies which had been working very well with their employees to do what is morally right.
“To force a worker earning RM2,000 to forgo his salary and only get RM600 under the Employee Retention Programme (ERP), which is funded by the employment insurance system (SIP), is to starve his family.
“In this regard, it is quite hypocritical for MEF to resort to SIP when it is at the forefront of opposition to the scheme,” he said.
Lo also questioned Shamsuddin’s claim, saying that the directive to pay two weeks’ salary could cause businesses to go bust.
“Is he saying that MEF can guarantee there will be no retrenchment if workers take two weeks’ unpaid leave?
“Are Malaysian companies so incompetent that two weeks’ wages will make them bankrupt?
“Let it be known that Shamsuddin had infamously claimed that 600,000 businesses will go bust simply because of the imposition of the minimum wage by the government.
“Even other employers groups have dismissed this as a failed prophecy,” he said.
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