By Chee Jo-Ey

LIKE many others, yesterday I started working from mi casa (my home). A total of 10 of my colleagues and myself included had successfully completed our daily meeting yesterday morning at 10am via Google Hangouts.

Novelty aside, so far, things seem to be running quite smoothly and as per usual as we upload assignments on Google Drive and rely on WhatsApp to maintain constant communication.

Some had even gone so far as to say that this temporary work arrangement could turn the tide on our work culture.

The Guardian published an article titled “Covid-19 could cause permanent shift towards home working” on March 13.

But not all of us have jobs that allow such flexible arrangements. What happens to those whose jobs require them to be at the front end of the operations?

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had announced on March 16 a Movement Control Order (MCO) from March 18 to 31. This means that we will be experiencing a partial form of lockdown whereby non-essential services are expected to close within the stipulated period.

According to Wong & Partners, in the realm of private equity, portfolio companies are required to pay employees during the implementation of the order. The government has not made any announcement which exempts employers from making salary payments.

There are guidelines stating that employers should continue making salary payments to its employees during any quarantine period, regardless of whether the employee is working or not. While not a law per se, the guidelines will most likely be considered by the Industrial Court when determining the issue of constructive dismissal.

According to news reports, some companies have compelled their employees to take unpaid leave during the order while others are required to utilise their annual leave during the period.

The restriction order to contain the Covid-19 outbreak has caused disruption to many businesses and is expected to adversely impact the economy in the short term.

A manager working at a hair salon who does not want to be named said: “My colleagues and I were asked to take our annual leave, and when that’s not enough, to take unpaid leave from March 18 to 31. In a way, I understand that my employer is facing a lot of pressure keeping the business afloat but I feel that the company should not force us to take annual leave as this is not our choice, but rather an order imposed by the government.”

A repair services company in the Klang Valley is still paying its local staff in full despite the company closing its operations till March 31.

The business owner Lee Chee Choong said: “I encourage my staff to stay home and avoid crowds to help contain the virus. I care about their well-being and understand that they have mouths to feed too. Should there be an extension of the order, I might need to think of some alternative methods. There needs to be give and take but I don’t want to have my staff go without salary at all.”

Meanwhile, several logistics companies in the Klang Valley continue to operate with fewer staff count in the office. These companies support the port business, which is categorised under the essential services sector.

For certain Chinese associations, they are closed during the weekdays but will be open to take in marriage registrations on Saturdays within certain prescribed time. Despite the changes in working schedule, the pay for these employees at a particular Chinese association will not be affected and no leave will be deducted as well.

It is indeed quite fortunate for those of us who hold jobs that allow us to work from home, but what about front-liners or administrative workers who need to be at their work desks? They are the ones who are most affected by the MCO, with some even being asked to take unpaid leave.

Although the guidelines from the Malaysian Employers Federation suggested that companies should put staff on a five-day annual paid leave within the period, we need to remember that this situation of emergency is not something employees opt for but rather a declaration by the government to help contain the pandemic. There needs to be consideration from both sides, and both employers and employees should work together to reach a mutual and workable arrangement. – March 19, 2020

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