Malaysia manufacturers reduce output with lockdown limits

KUALA LUMPUR (CNA) – Since the start of Malaysia’s total lockdown on June 1, a salt manufacturer in Selangor has cut its production line from over 18 types of products to a maximum of 10.

Business Development Manager of Qingli Sdn Bhd Seow Jun Ze said the company decided to focus on faster moving items that have higher consumer demand.

“We’re down at least 38 to 40 per cent from normal production, and even for the 10 product lines, the required lead time for orders is much longer now,” he said.

The salt producer’s situation is not unique, as manufacturers and employers across the country grapple with reduced outputs as a result of lower manpower mandated by COVID-19 restrictions.

The total lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office on May 28 in light of surging COVID-19 case numbers and deaths. The next day, 9,020 new daily cases were reported, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.

A 60-per-cent limit on manpower capacity was announced as part of the standard operating procedures for permitted service and manufacturing sectors. To comply with the operating manpower limit, Asia Brands Berhad, a fabric manufacturer as well as garment producer and retailer, has to rotate workers’ shifts to ensure everyone gets a turn on the line.

Its chairman Tan Thian Poh said those in the administrative side work from home as much as possible.

“The manpower limit does cut into our production output, especially since we were facing labour shortages over two years back when the government cut foreign worker intake,” Tan, who currently chairs the Federation of Malaysian Fashion, Textile and Apparel (FMFTA), said.

“The retail and consumer fashion units are not running right now per government orders, but we also manufacture non-woven fabric and personal protective equipment (PPE) and fabric masks,” he added.

The manufacturers agreed that the workforce capacity limit was necessary to bring the cases down in the short term.

“I think manufacturers understand, and are willing to bite the bullet to help flatten the infection numbers’ curve as much as possible, so it’s okay if in the short term, you pay full wages even though the worker might only be working half the normal time,” FMFTA’s Tan said.

But if the lockdown dragged further, he said, business owners would have to prioritise their companies’ survival. Some might resort to letting go of employees who would be surplus to the manpower limit.