Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd officially ceased operations today. -- NSTP/MOHD KHAIRUL HELMY MOHD DIN

KUALA LUMPUR: Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd officially ceased operations today,

leaving its employees in the dark about their future as all staff have been told to go on forced leave until Oct 30.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Utusan Malaysia representative Mohd Taufek Razak said until Oct 9, no letter of termination had been issued to staff.

He said only a circular by Utusan executive chairman Datuk Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir had been issued, stating that Oct 9 was the last working day for employees and their last date of service would be on Oct 31.

“We are confused and don’t know whether we should be sad or furious,” Taufek said at a press conference at Utusan Malaysia’s headquarters in Jalan Chan Sow Lin on Wednesday.

“We have yet to receive any termination letter. We were asked to go on leave as the building here has already been sealed.”

He said the company had agreed to pay staff salaries until Oct 31.

“Our last drawn salary was on Oct 4 (for August’s salary), while claims are still being processed.

“We have not received salaries for September or October. We learnt that our contributions to the Employees Provident Fund and Social Security Organisation

are being paid in instalments," he said, adding that he was sad about the way the announcement was made.

“It is inhumane to do this to us and give such a short notice to vacate the building and without any compensation.”

He said a briefing held on Wednesday only included department heads, who were unable to answer questions that employees had, including on compensation.

Taufek claimed that Aziz and senior management from the human resources or finance departments were nowhere to be seen.

“We do not understand why the company did this to us. It is an act of cowardice,” he said, adding that employees tried reaching out to Aziz last week, but failed.

Taufek said NUJ tried helping its members by organising sessions with the Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency to address employees’ financial

woes and to get employment.

“Due to age, some of us are facing difficulties getting new jobs. If there are changes in the management, we hope the affected employees will be absorbed,” he said, adding that it was a sad day for many as they loved the company.

He said the union’s members would wait until Oct 30 before considering legal action.

The circular issued by Aziz said the Malay daily had been in a critical phase in the last few years.

“The company went downhill after May last year,” Aziz said.

He said the company had taken measures to revive itself, including offering a Voluntary Separation Scheme to more than 700 employees, and selling assets to

improve cash flow.

“However, the plummeting circulation of Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo!, as well as the failure to achieve a target of RM4 million revenue from advertising, had

placed the company’s cash flow in a more dire state.”

He said the company could not pay salaries on time and was facing legal action due to unpaid debt.

“With that, Utusan’s board of directors, on Oct 7, approved a suggestion to implement a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation proposal and, at the same time, consented to the appointment of UHY Advisory (KL) Sdn Bhd as interim liquidator.”

He said the board of directors had to do this as it believed the company was insolvent and could no longer operate.

Earlier this week, Utusan Melayu announced that it would sell 70 per cent of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Dilof Sdn Bhd, to Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd, a company

believed to be controlled by prominent businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary.

Dilof is the holder of the publishing licences issued by the Home Ministry for the group’s newspapers — Utusan Malaysia, Mingguan Malaysia, Kosmo! and

Kosmo! Ahad.

In the memo, Aziz said employees should pack their belongings and return the company’s property, including access cards and office keys, to their heads of department by 1pm today.

“If necessary, the company will extend access to employees to tomorrow, 9am to 6pm.”

After that, the company would only be accessible to some staff.

Any compensation on the termination would be based on the law and would be handled by the liquidator.

Aziz said a briefing would be given to employees by the liquidator at 3pm on Oct 30 at Dewan Besar Utusan.

About 11am today, Utusan employees were seen packing their belongings. At 12.30pm, a police vehicle was seen parked in front of the headquarters.

Employee Muhammad Hasif Idris, 29, said staff received a message that there would be a meeting with the bosses.

“We were told to bring boxes to pack our stuff. The rumours turned out to be true when we received the memo today."

He said he was upset about the short notice, but had been preparing himself by becoming a part-time Takaful planner after hearing that the company was facing tough times.

Utusan workers who are retrenched under the law can seek assistance from the Employment Insurance System (SIP) under the Social Security Organisation,

Bernama reported.

Human Resources Minister M. Kula Segaran said SIP acted as a social security net to help workers who lost their jobs by providing assistance.

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

“SIP will also look for alternative employment. It will get employers to interview these people,” he said at the Parliament lobby, here, today.

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