NUJ mulls demanding Umno sell Utusan shares

Azril Annuar
A man reads a newspaper outside a shop in downtown Kuala Lumpur on October 10, 2012. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 — The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Peninsular Malaysia is considering demanding that Umno sell its Utusan Melayu Bhd shares to ensure that Utusan Malaysia staff are paid.

In a statement to Malay Mail, NUJ claimed it had been informed that the newspaper may have difficulty meeting wage obligations going forward.

“If the staff don’t receive any salary, NUJ is considering demanding that Umno sells its shares to ensure staff survival. Our newest executive chairman Datuk Aziz Sheikh Fadzir is also an Umno veteran who has other interests instead of the wellbeing of the staff.

“Our last resort would be to organise a strike if the staff aren’t paid. They also lack the funds to pay the staff under a voluntary separation scheme (VSS). Currently, staff morale is low but no one is leaving because they are hoping for the VSS,” it said.

Its publisher, Utusan Melayu Bhd, was classified as a PN17 firm last week owing to loan delinquencies. The classification means it does not have the liquidity needed to maintain its current listing’s requirements.

In a Bursa Malaysia filing on August 20, Utusan Melayu said it has defaulted on loans from Bank Mualamat Malaysia Bhd and Maybank Islamic Bhd. It must come up with a regularisation plan within a year or risk being delisted from the stock exchange.

The company has consistently operated at a loss in recent years and most recently reported a RM5.8 million loss in the first quarter of 2018.

Its accumulated losses topped RM71 million as of June this year, leading to the current PN17 status.

The statement pointed out that PN17 does not directly impact Utusan’s rank-and-file.

“To make matters worse, the workers there have not had a salary increment according to the Concession Agreement (CA) for the past four years. Currently, the CA case is still in court. Can you imagine what the staff had to go through with the rising cost of living?

“The excuse Utusan gave the court is that they don’t have the money to increase the staff salary for the 2014-2017 CA. Both sides are trying to resolve this in court,” said the statement.

According to the statement, NUJ also finds it strange that despite not having enough money to ensure staff welfare, Utusan still has the funds to establish a few new subsidiaries.

The union believes this is a way for Utusan to force its personnel to leave on their own accord so it does not have to fork out more cash under a VSS or grant them severance pay.

“NUJ has received information that there is one subsidiary conducting internal and external training and it is already in operation. We also heard that Utusan wants to merge the editorial departments of Utusan Malaysia, Kosmo, Mingguan Malaysia and Kosmo Ahad under one company.

“The photo departments will be placed under one company while the graphic department will be another company. Before this, everything was under one roof — Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd. By doing this the management have breached the agreement between NUJ and Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd.

“The CA was signed between Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd and NUJ, not Utusan Melayu’s subsidiaries. NUJ will take Utusan to court if they continue with this,” the statement warned.

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