Cough up RM60 mil for 600 ex Utusan staff offered VSS, liquidators urged

THE NATIONAL Union of Journalists (NUJ) Peninsular Malaysia has urged the liquidators entrusted with Utusan Group’s trust to ensure that some 600 of its former employees who took part in a voluntary separation scheme (VSS) four years ago receive their compensation as soon as possible. 

This came after the High Court last Tuesday (Oct 25) ruled that the affected ex-staff of Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd (UMMB), who are collectively owed nearly RM60 mil in backdated wages and benefits, are beneficiary trustees of the trust’s properties, and not creditors.

As such, judge Nadzarin Wok Nordin said they stand outside the liquidation process of the company and have a right to be paid ahead of the creditors. 

In a statement today, NUJ reiterated their demand to the new Utusan owner and employer – Media Mulia Sdn Bhd – to fulfil their promise to pay the balance of the VSS using funds from the sale of properties owned by Utusan Group.

“At the same time, NUJ also hopes that apart from the workers under the VSS, the hundreds of UMMB workers who were laid off due to the winding up of the company’s operations are also given due attention and paid their due compensation,” said NUJ general secretary Chin Sung Chew.

Chin Sung Chew

Elaborating, he said all of NUJ-Utusan members and non-members alike who were retrenched, as well as those whose salaries were not paid even while UMMB was still under operation, have endured “tremendous suffering” as a result of being dismissed without proper compensation. 

“Most of those who lost their livelihood lived in very challenging conditions over the few years after the Utusan closure,” he said.

In October 2019, Utusan Malaysia, the nation’s oldest Malay language daily, shut down following a prolonged financial crisis caused by dwindling daily distributions and failure to hit the target monthly advertising revenue.

RM1.2 mil debt

At the time, the Utusan Group was also put on PN17 status by Bursa Malaysia for failing to pay an outstanding debt of nearly RM1.2 mil to two banks.

As of December 2018, approximately 800 employees had accepted a VSS from the group. However, their payments were delayed, leading to 159 of them eventually hauling UMMB to court.

To date, only eight payments have been made by UMMB to staff who took the VSS prior to a creditors’ voluntary liquidation (CVL) exercise dated Oct 7, 2019, according to Nadzarin.

The VSS terms required a total of 12 payments over a period of 12 months to the VSS employees after statutory deductions, debt owing and other official processes were completed.

(Photo credit: The Star)

“There is still an outstanding amount of RM59,403,367.97 pursuant to the VSS”, said the judge, adding that only 593 VSS employees have filed their proof of debt with the liquidator, UHY Advisory.

Nadzarin further noted that a letter dated Oct 8, 2019, by Utusan Melayu chairman Datuk Abdul Aziz Sheikh Fadzir stated that the payments of the VSS would be made using funds obtained from the sale of Utusan Group assets.

The judge said the assets, which include 29 properties owned by UMMB and its subsidiaries – Utusan Publications & Distributor Sdn Bhd, U Print Sdn Bhd (in liquidation), Utusan Land Sdn Bhd and Juasa Holdings Sdn Bhd – and related company, Mediamoney Sdn Bhd, can be recognised as trust properties.

As such, the sum of the net proceeds, after deducting the necessary and compulsory payments such as real property gains tax, quit rent, assessment, liquidators fees, legal fees and miscellaneous payments on the sale less the redemption, ought to be paid to the stakeholders of the VSS employees (Messrs Lavinia, Dell Akhbar Tee & Partners and Messrs Azmi & Associates).

In July 2020, Utusan and its sister publication Kosmo! made a comeback, now under Media Mulia, a company said to be owned by billionaire Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary through Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd.

Aurora Mulia also has stakes in Media Prima Bhd, the country’s largest media conglomerate and parent company of the News Straits Times Press, while Media Mulia owns The Malaysian Reserve as well as Mingguan Malaysia and Kosmo Ahad! – Oct 31, 2022


Main photo credit: Gerakan Media Merdeka

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