Malaysia: Utusan ends print edition, thousands owed in unpaid wages

Utusan Melayu Berhad, the publisher of Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, has announced that August 21 will be the final print edition of the paper as it continues to struggle financially. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the National Union of Journalists, Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) have demanded the immediate payment of outstanding wages to all staff.

NUJM protest outside Utusan offices. Credit: NUJM

In a staff briefing on August 19, management announced that Wednesday’s edition would be the last print edition of the over 80 year old newspaper, as the company continues to struggle financially. The announcement comes as around 100 Utusan Malaysia staff and former staff protested over unpaid wages, an ongoing issue for the outlet.

Utusan has not paid salaries of its nearly 800 staff since June and now owe in excess of RM3.2 million (USD 765) per month according to NUJM. In November 2018 Utusan had failed to pay wages for at least two months to staff.  A voluntary separation scheme (VSS) was offered in 2018, but that has also been stopped.

NUJM noted that staff were struggling to make ends meet, having to take out loans with moneylenders.

The company also could not sell its assets due to the lack of certificate of fitness (CF), a certificate of completion and compliance released by the local authority council. UMNO was the largest shareholder of Utusan with 49.77% stake as of 30th April last year, according to Bloomberg data. In February 2019, UMNO sold its 31.6% to Opulence Asia Sdn Bhd, a company owned by Utusan executive chairman, Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir. Umno still has 18.1% shares of Utusan.

The NUJM said: “We hoped Umno would intervene to help Utusan staff given that the newspaper had served as the party’s official mouthpiece for so long. The management is also forced to get the necessary certification to ensure the buildings are safe for occupancy and selling them. Utusan has no other means of paying its staff salaries unless the assets are all liquidated.”

The IFJ said: “We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Malaysia who are impacted by Utusan’s financial issues. Journalists cannot be expected to work without pay or not know when their next pay is coming. Outstanding wages must be paid immediately.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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