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Labour Shortage Has Forced Over 2,000 Mamaks To Close Their Businesses

Mamak restaurants need at least 30,000 more workers to fill the vacancies nationwide.

Cover image via Yusof Mat Isa/Malay Mail & Hazreen Mohamad/Berita Harian

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There's a massive labour shortage in Malaysia and it's plaguing the catering and restaurant sector amidst the pandemic, according to the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Entrepreneurs Association (PRESMA)

The shortage of foreign workers and the difficulties in getting locals to fill the vacancies has, in fact, forced over 2,000 mamaks to permanently close since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

PRESMA president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan described the labour shortage as critical for the sector.

He said the shortage has had a major impact on the survival of the restaurant industry since the ban on the entry of foreign workers was enforced following the pandemic, reported Berita Harian.

"Of the 12,000 members registered with PRESMA, now more than 2,000 members have closed operations in the last two years due to a number of factors, mostly due to lack of manpower," Jawahar said.

Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan.

Image via Berita Harian

And amidst the shortage of foreign workers, Jawahar said that while the association is now opening up opportunities to the local workforce, there is no response from Malaysians to work in mamak restaurants

PRESMA members, he said, are always ready to respond to the government's call to hire local workers, but unfortunately, it is difficult to given the lack of interest shown by Malaysians.

"We put up posters at members' restaurants calling on locals to apply, but the response has been cold. The ones who come for the job are senior citizens who are short of money or foreigners who ran away from their employers in other sectors such as farm labour or immigrants.

"We don't discriminate against senior citizens who are still able to work even though we need the youth's strength in this line of work. Young people prefer to work in the gig economy sectors... probably because of the flexible working hours," he added.

30,000 more workers needed to fill up the vacancies nationwide

"The association's members have now been reduced to about 10,000 only because many have had to completely close down their restaurant operations because it is difficult to find employees," he said.

According to Jawahar, many foreign workers who previously used MyTravelPass to go home before the movement control order (MCO) could not re-enter due to the pandemic, thus affecting mamaks nationwide.

"Although there is no MCO, and the economic situation is improving, the worker shortage continues to affect restaurant operations. Some mamak restaurants have been forced to operate with fewer employees. They are focusing on how best to serve their customers. When it involves customers it gives a direct impact to us," Berita Harian quoted him as saying.

The massive shortage of employees is also creating a very chaotic situation in daily operations.

"There is also the problem of unskilled workers. Usually, there are a few trained or skilled workers to handle the duties in every service department in a mamak restaurant. For example, workers who serve beverages do not work as food delivery staff or the cook. Then there are also staff specially tasked to maintain the cleanliness, including cleaning the toilets.

"So, when there is a shortage of workers, operations are disrupted. The most worrying factor is the issue of cleanliness which is PRESMA's priority," he said.

In December last year, eateries proposed to hike up the price for menu items by 10 to 20% to cover a 30% increment in cost this year:

Meanwhile, a business group has spoken against the proposed ban on the sale of cigarettes and vaping on the account that it is an impulsive decision that will drive people to unregulated black-market sources: