Second stimulus package disappointing - MATTA

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) is disappointed with the much anticipated Economic Stimulus Package announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin which fails to address the key issue of protecting jobs which is equally as important as the temporary relief measures outlined today.

“We are thankful and fully appreciative that the Rakyat, especially the hardcore poor, have been given a temporary lifeline. However, the package has failed to meet the needs of tourism enterprises particularly SMEs and does not address the problem of staff retention. What will happen after the handouts are fully given out by May when employees find themselves out of a job because the businesses they used to work for have been forced to close shop?”, said MATTA President Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

The tourism industry which employs 3.5 million people and contributes 15.2% to the nation's GDP has seen revenues fall by a staggering 90% in March and is looking at a near total-loss in business for the months of April, May and June. Many businesses especially SMEs may have no choice but to start retrenching employees - a move that will have a long-lasting ripple effect on many other industries.

“The stimuli announced by the government does not address the fundamental needs of businesses and will eventually result in companies having to layoff employees in order to stay in business. At this point in time both employers and employees are willing to compromise to keep people employed but the government is making it somewhat 'difficult' for everyone. For instance, EPF contributions are only 'deferred' and even then 'subject to approval'. Even the RM 600 staff retention subsidy has questionable eligibility criteria. From the way it looks, employees can look forward to some small relief in April and partly in May but after that, with the prospect of retrenchment looming, they're essentially on their own”, Tan added.

Tourism businesses have indicated a possible downsizing of staff from anywhere between 70-90% over the coming few months in order to simply survive. Many tourism businesses are hesitant about taking up any of the 'special loans' being offered by banks to keep staff on the payroll for fear that they will be saddled with additional debt especially since recovery is expected to take much longer than expected.

“Even before the Movement Control Order came into effect, the travel and tourism industry which was hardest hit along with other related businesses were already struggling to stay afloat. The "writing is on the wall" and yet it seems the government has all but ignored the desperate pleas of the business community in favour or projecting big numbers without any true substance. Based on the recent announcement it seems as though businesses are still required to bear the brunt of the economic fallout; handcuffed by inflexible and unyielding labor laws and a lack of any real financial relief”, Tan concluded.

A staggering one million jobs are being lost every day in the travel and tourism sector due to the sweeping effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Up to 50 million jobs throughout the world are at immediate risk, with up to 320 million jobs facing the impact of the dramatic loss of business.

Many countries around the world are assisting businesses by subsidizing wages with neighboring Singapore providing as much as 75% in wage subsidies for tourism businesses.

Local industry stakeholders are not confident that the nation's economy will be able to spring back competitively once the crisis is over. Many are on the verge of throwing-in the towel.