Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

Mustafa Centre's cost-cutting measures are fair: MOM

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has assessed that Mustafa Centre’s cost-cutting measures, which include reducing its foreign manpower, are being implemented fairly.

The ministry said it is in touch with the company and the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers’ Union on the recent measures, which include sending back foreign workers whose work permits have expired.

“We note that the company obtained its union’s support on the cost-saving measures in view of the poor business situation,” an MOM spokesman told The Straits Times (ST) on Wednesday (Sept 9).

The spokesman added that the ministry will continue to ensure that any further measures will be implemented fairly and reasonably.

The popular shopping landmark was in the news last week after its founder told staff that the company is unable to renew the work passes of its foreign workers, and would pay for their plane tickets home and one month’s basic salary.

In a letter, founder and managing director Mustaq Ahmad also urged staff who have not been called upon for work to take on a second job, and said the company will discontinue their sustenance allowance so as to reduce payroll costs.

MOM’s spokesman said the company had notified the ministry of its cost- saving measures as early as March, when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to gain momentum here.

The company had also declared to MOM that all Government support received has been passed to its employees, said the spokesman.

However, Mr Mustaq said in his letter that business has been badly affected by the virus situation. The mall closed on April 2, after it was linked to over 100 Covid-19 cases, and is believed to be the starting point of thousands of infections in foreign worker dormitories.

After it reopened partially in May, it had to reduce its operating hours and impose strict safe distancing measures.

Mustafa employees ST spoke to last week said business is still far below pre-pandemic levels.

Some employees have managed to find temporary jobs to supplement their income, as they wait to be called back to work.

Mr Mohamed Bhurari, 42, said he had stopped work since April, when his department, Mustafa Air Travel, closed during the circuit-breaker period. His boss had warned him that it might only re-open next year, said Mr Bhurari.

His boss has encouraged them to get side jobs in the meantime, and Mr Bhurari has started working with a cargo company. He now takes home around $900, which is 75 per cent of his original wages.

“We understand that they (the travel agency) cannot open, so we have to wait. Hopefully we will go back soon,” said Mr Bhurari.

Mustafa employees also said that some of them are currently rostered for work on a rotating basis.

An employee who declined to be named said his supervisor had told him to take a break from September. He would have to wait for his turn to be called back to work, said the employee, who is a work permit holder from Malaysia.

For now, the 52-year-old will be on the lookout for a temporary job.

“It’s not just me, everyone is facing the same thing,” said the employee.

When contacted, a Mustafa Centre spokesman said they are still working out the exact number of workers who will be affected by the cost-cutting measures.

The spokesman also added that they are working with the union on temporary deployments for affected staff.

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