KUALA LUMPUR: The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called on the government and opposition members of parliament to debate Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd’s fate in the Dewan Rakyat.
NUJ president Mohd Taufek Razak said recent developments where Utusan announced that it would sell 70 per cent of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Dilof Sdn Bhd, to Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd, did not provide any guarantee to the daily’s employees.
“We hope the fate of Utusan employees will be debated in the Dewan Rakyat so that Malaysians can see who are the Malay saviours and who are the Malay oppressors,” he told a press conference at the Parliament lobby.
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, while Aurora Mulia is believed to be controlled by prominent businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary.
“Utusan’s publishing license has been saved, but the employees were gifted with a ‘gravestone’ through the closedown notice issued on Oct 9,” said Taufek.
He also urged the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) to examine Utusan’s sudden closure last week, which left 862 employees jobless.
“In this sad and confusing situation about the employees future, we call upon MACC, SSM and other relevant agencies to monitor Utusan’s process in selling its assets and paying its debts, especially severance to the employees,” he said.
On Oct 9, the headquarters of Utusan that published Utusan Malaysia and Kosmo! were seized as part of its liquidation process.
Meanwhile, several PKR lawmakers took Utusan’s previous and new managements to task, calling on them to compensate the former employees as soon as possible.
Kapar MP Datuk Abdullah Sani said he would bring the matter up in the Parliamentary Budget debates slated this week.
He said Utusan’s owners had breached the Collective Agreement (CA) signed by the union and the publisher which meant that there was a basis for legal action to be taken.
“Utusan not only breached the CA but also the Employment Act 1955. It has to be reminded that you could be jailed for doing that.
“I was notified that Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has bought and taken over Utusan.
“So the new and old owners should discuss the way to resolve the issue and they must make a decision that does not contradict the CA,” he said.
Abdullah Sani said the employer could also be charged under Section 56 of the Trade Relation Act 1967.
Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil said the bigger matters which need to be addressed were the 862 workers who had yet to receive their September and October payments, and another 800 who undertook the Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) earlier this year who had yet to receive their full settlement.
“I feel that the new owner must step forward and give an explanation in writing to the workers. They have to be responsible in this,” he said.
Utusan officially ceased operations on Oct 9, leaving its employees in the dark about their future as all staff were told to go on forced leave until Oct 30.
Recently, Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said the ministry would be going after Utusan for shutting down their operations without sufficient notice and leaving its workers in a lurch.
He also said that legal action would be taken against the company for breaking the law as what was done was clearly not right.
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said some employees of the newspaper would be rehired by a new media group, dubbing it as the “new” Utusan.
However, he did not say how many of the 800 employees would be rehired.
The Malay daily was first published as Utusan Melayu in Jawi in 1939 before it switched to romanised Malay in 1967.
The paper has been running at a loss since 2012.
In August this year, Utusan received a RM1.6 million cash injection from Umno, but it was not sufficient to rescue the company.