JOHOR BARU – Mr. Ridwan Mustafa, 34, was among thousands of Malaysians who lost their jobs in Singapore in July last year.
Faced with the loss of regular income, the former Rentokil employee decided to go into business. Using his savings, he took out loans to open a restaurant and found himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
The retail sector and restaurants in particular have been hit hard by the lockdown restrictions as Malaysia battles its deadliest wave of Covid-19 which has claimed 23,000 lives so far this year.
“Without the pandemic, my business was very good,” Ridwan said, referring to the second half of last year before Malaysia returned to a series of lockdowns. “Now my wife and I are always arguing because after buying ingredients they are all wasted because no one can dine inside.”
Before the border was closed in March last year, around half a million people crossed overland between Singapore and Johor Baru, many of whom are just day visitors to Singapore enjoying the currency over strong to take advantage of the cheaper food and shopping available across the Causeway.
Both employees and contractors in the southern state of Johor, particularly the capital Johor Baru which faces the Strait of Tebrau, have suffered from the shortage of Singaporean dollars. Some have been without income for over a year and a fifth of small businesses in South Johor are in financial difficulty.
âWithout the two main spending groups – visitors to the island and Malaysians earning Singaporean dollars – more than 20 percent of SMEs would have to wind up their businesses,â said Teh Kee Sin, advisor and founding president of the South Johor Small-Medium Enterprises Association. The Sunday Times.
Estimates from the state government as well as the chair of the Malaysian and Singapore Workers’ Task Force, Dayalan Sreebalan, show that more than 100,000 people have had to give up their wages in Singapore.
Many are unable to meet commitments such as home loans, Dayalan said, as these expenses were budgeted for by workers taking advantage of the stronger Singapore dollar they were earning.
âWhatever work in Malaysia is not going to be enough,â he told ST.
Prior to Friday, Johor was one of only two states not yet exiting the first phase of the Malaysian government’s four-step national recovery plan for the pandemic, which allows more movement and economic activity in areas to low hospitalizations and high vaccination rates.
Until last month, the southern state had the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country after Sabah. The rate in Johor remains below the national average although more than half of its population has been fully immunized.
Mr Teh said contractors have been pushing hard to get vaccinated in recent months, both in hopes of resuming or scaling up operations and minimizing the cost of quarantine or loss of labor. of work.
Many eventually decided to pay for the vaccinations, avoiding the free vaccines offered by the government.
Mr. Ridwan’s Dapur 3 Dara restaurant is among those still unable to accommodate customers for dinner because its staff are not fully vaccinated.
But the father of three can’t wait for the day Singaporeans return to Johor.
“Most of my ex-colleagues in Singapore want to come to my restaurant. They are just waiting for the border to reopen.”