Holidays bring a need for labour

GEORGE TOWN: With many workers leaving for reunions after two years apart from family, businesses are feeling the strain due to labour shortage.

This desperation for workers, compounded by the fact that fresh intakes of foreign workers have been stifled by the pandemic, seem to mirror what economists termed as “The Great Resignation”.

From hotels to restaurants, retail outlets and even telcos, some are so desperate for part-time workers that they are even willing to offer RM12 per hour for the next few weeks, when it is usually RM8 per hour.

This offer has lured a housewife in Penang, who took on the challenge of working in a healthcare retail store in Gurney Plaza here after seeing the RM12 per hour offer. “I live 500m from Gurney Plaza and I go to that retail outlet frequently. We didn’t want to travel for the holidays because of the ‘balik kampung’ jam, and my husband just wants to go fishing.

“So, I became a part-time sales assistant for the fun of it,” said the housewife, who only wants to be known as Sam.

It was harder than she expected. After hours of being on her feet helping customers make purchase decisions, Sam is now dealing with an aching back and sore legs.

Nevertheless, she finds it fun to interact with other part-timers who are more than 10 years her junior.

Entrepreneur Warder Tan said staff shortage made it almost impossible to operate his food outlets, and he was forced to hire Myanmar workers.

“I am so worried about hiring foreigners, but I have no choice as I can’t run my businesses without workers,” he lamented.

Tan also runs a website design house, and he needs four more designers to cope with the workload.

“The backlog in the design house is crazy,” he said, adding that his original team resigned at the height of the pandemic.

“We are friends. I still stay in touch with them and I found out that some are just resting at home, jobless till now. They just don’t want to work. I don’t know what they want,” Tan moaned.

He said he had read about “The Great Resignation”, and agreed that the phenomenon was real, based on his own experience.

The term was coined by management Prof Anthony Klotz of the Texas A&M University in May last year, where he predicted a mass exodus of people from their jobs worldwide because the pandemic forced people to reassess their lives.

Penang’s vibrant hotel scene is also suffering due to staff shortage, but many of these hotels’ management teams had braced for this since last year.

“We had already predicted that the government will allow interstate travel for Hari Raya Aidilfitri. How can we stop our team members from going home for Raya? It would be heartless,” said a Batu Ferringhi hotel director who only wanted to be known as Soo.

Confirming that his hotel’s occupancy rate was nearly 100% last Friday, he said his team had coaxed part-timers with a daily wage of RM10 an hour, with uniforms and meals thrown in, for their housekeeping and F&B outlets.

The Light Hotel general manager K. Raj Kumar said employees in other departments such as finance or administration were now trained in the rigours of housekeeping to provide back-up.

“Since the pandemic, we have been experiencing severe staff shortages. It is difficult to find workers, so we have trained the staff to do other department duties,” he said.

Prestige Hotel general manager Melvin Ooi said while his hotel had plenty of vacancies, the Raya week operation was solved with proper rostering.

“During the Raya week, most of our part-timers are away, so support from managers who are not celebrating, including myself, helped greatly,” he said, adding that the hotel was paying part-timers RM8 an hour, while those who proved their efficiency were getting RM10 per hour.

A young waiter who only wants to be known as Saiful is toning down his Hari Raya bash to pull two shifts at two hotels for RM10 an hour, earning himself nearly RM200 a day plus free meals.

“I want the extra income,” he said, adding that he would be doing this till he gets a suitable permanent job. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication.

As for Penang’s nasi kandar outlets, diners are back with a vengeance.

Hameediyah Restaurant director Mohd Riyazz Syed Ibrahim said where there used to be 40 workers, the restaurant had been making do with just 10.

Despite offering monthly salaries of RM1,700 to RM2,000, with perks, and part-timers getting RM10 per hour, he said no one came forward.

“We make do with what we have now. All my current staff and even me work very hard now,” he said.

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