2 Malaysians who have had to find work outside their comfort zones due to Covid-19

Ooi, a former events director, decided to do deliveries for an online platform after hurting her wrist while working at a hypermarket.
PHOTO: Nicole Ooi

Nicole Ooi went from being an events director to a hypermarket stocker, to a food delivery driver, all in a matter of months during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ooi was working in the Klang Valley in event management before she decided to seek greener pastures in Singapore last September.

She joined an events company in the city state in March, but worked all of one week before she was asked to take two months of unpaid leave.

The Penang-born Ooi decided to return to Malaysia, as she knew she would not be able to find part-time work in Singapore due to work permit issues.

She then got a job as a vegetable stocker at a hypermarket in Kuala Lumpur.

“I did not have the luxury of sitting at home and waiting for jobs to come to me. I need to service my housing loan and personal loan from Sept 2020 onwards, so I need a healthy income before that."

“Some income is better than zero income. Of course, family and friends offered financial aid, but (I declined their offer as) I’m still healthy and able to make money,” said the 38-year-old Ooi.

However, her job at the hypermarket proved to be physically challenging.

“I used to go to the gym to work out but this was another level of exhaustion – eight hours of hard labour carrying heavy items and bending up and down.

“The first few days were difficult but I thought I could cope. But soon, I could not feel my feet or my back.

"Then I injured my wrist and could not even hold a toothbrush, so I had to quit the job, ” recalled Ooi.

Her stint proved to be a humbling experience.

“I went from being a customer who spent money without even checking the price tag to a person working at the back end carrying fresh vegetables and fruits from the chiller room.”

Ooi said doing deliveries is about getting past one's ego. PHOTO: Nicole Ooi

On her first day of work, Ooi also met a pilot doing the same job as her. It was the pilot’s last day as he had been recalled to work since his airline had resumed flights.

“I have a lot of respect for him as he worked there for one month.

"I felt that I was not alone on this journey and that the impact from Covid-19 was very real.” Ooi said doing deliveries is about getting past one's ego.

In March, the number of people unemployed in Malaysia was 610,500. In April, that number rose to 778,800, an increase of almost 50 per cent compared to the same period last year.

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In April, the unemployment rate was 5per cent, increasing from 3.9 per cent the month before, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM).

The Socio-Economic Research Centre also projected that unemployment rate will grow to 6.5 per cent in the third quarter of this year.

The rise in unemployment comes mainly from small and medium enterprises (SME). A recent survey done by the SME Association of Malaysia found that about 40 per cent of SMEs are terminating workers to stay afloat. Many of the rest are not hiring or implementing pay cuts.

The self-employed are also not having it easy, with 46.6 per cent losing their jobs, based on a special survey by the DOSM. Bank Negara projects that the unemployment figure in the country could reach 1.8 million.

The Malaysian Employers Federation’s opinion is that the challenging job market may last until next year.

Out of the comfort zone

After quitting from the hypermarket, Ooi signed up with an on-demand workforce platform, but the jobs she received were inconsistent.

She then saw a post on Facebook by her friend, a home baker, about a group delivery platform (MY Food Directory and Delivery C19) that was looking for drivers.

Ooi decided to take on the job, which she started the second week of May. She basically collects food items from various suppliers at a specific collection point, before delivering them to customers, who only have to pay a flat delivery rate.

“I like this delivery job because it helps the small time bakers and other home cooks, as one of their main challenges is the high delivery cost.

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network 

“With this flat rate service, it is a win-win-win scenario – sellers get to sell more, drivers like me get to send more, and customers get to save on delivery charges.”

However, some of her friends questioned why Ooi is willing to do menial work.

“They felt it was not worth their time. It’s also about getting past one’s ego. I used to manage my own team of colleagues and deal with suppliers and corporate clients.

“Of course this is very different from what I was doing, but it’s earning an honest living. At times like these, one just needs to swallow one’s ego and keep moving forward to survive.”

Ooi has this advice for those in a similar position as her.

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“Keep your head up. If you are willing to try new things, there will be opportunities out there. If you can cook, cook and sell it to friends, family or sell it online.

“If you can drive, take up delivery jobs, it’s in demand now. If you are physically fit, there’re jobs in essential service industries too.

“Don’t feel ashamed and think that you are alone in this. There’re a lot of us out there in the same boat, and willing to support each other.

“People will experience shame of losing their job, or guilt for not being able to put food on the table for their dependents. Talk about it and ask for help.

“If you don’t share, people may not know that you are in trouble and need help.

“For those who have some savings, take this opportunity to explore other industries, relook into your skill set, or take up new courses.

“There are many free courses online now. This is the best time to venture into something new.”

At the end of May, Ooi received news from Singapore that her employment had been terminated. However, she maintains a positive outlook.

“I believe that things will get better soon. It’s important to count your blessings. I’m just thankful for a roof over my head and food on my table, ” she concluded.

Doing whatever it takes

Factory worker Mohamad Zukri Mohd Noor lost his job when his company closed down in April. Being retrenched, he shared, is a painful and scary experience.

“I felt depressed as I didn’t have an income.

"The first few weeks were the hardest, and I had sleepless nights worrying about my monthly expenses and putting food on the table,” shared Mohamad Zukri, 40, who was attached to a company that specialised in constructing show houses for eight years.

Mohamad Zukri is among thousands of Malaysians who are forced to look for work outside their area of expertise. In his previous job building showhouses, Mohamad Zukri had honed his carpentry skills.

Former factory worker Mohamad Zukri, who was retrenched in April, now works as a despatch person to support his family. PHOTO: Mohamad Zukri Mohd Noor

“During the MCO period, it was difficult to find a job as there weren’t many vacancies. I was desperate and willing to take on any job.

"But it wasn’t easy as companies weren’t hiring, ” said Mohamad Zukri, who started working after completing his Form Five.

In May, his neighbour offered him a part-time job as a despatch driver for a private company. The work requires him to travel to different locations around the Klang Valley and also outstation.

On average, he works between eight and 12 hours on weekdays. Last month, he earned RM800 (S$260), which is a third of his previous salary.

“The money isn’t much, but some income is better than none. Times are tough, and I can’t afford to be selective with employment.

"Right now, my focus is on making an honest living and being able to provide for my family. My wife and I are struggling but we have to make it work,” he explained.

Thankfully Mohamad Zukri’s wife, Siti Syuhada Hussin, 44, works as a clinic nurse in Selayang and her salary helps to keep the family afloat.

Due to financial constraints, Mohamad Zukri (second from right) had a low-key celebration with his wife Siti Syuhada and their children during Raya. PHOTO: Mohamad Zukri Mohd Noor

Their monthly expenses are about RM1,600, which include payment for their car, rent, utility bills and groceries.

Their family has had to tighten their belt and cut down on expenses. Meals are kept simple – rice, one vegetable and curry.

“My wife and I constantly remind our four children that we can’t afford to eat out anymore. Our kids have to eat whatever that’s homecooked, no matter how simple the meals,” said Mohamad Zukri, who has minimal savings.

For Hari Raya, he could only afford to buy new clothing for his two younger children, who are seven and eight years old.

“We made do with whatever we had. For Hari Raya, we kept it simple and only prepared chicken rendang, peanut sauce and nasi impit,” said Siti Syuhada.

As a despatch driver, Mohamad Zukri has to drop off parcels to people from all walks of life. To keep safe from Covid-19, he uses a face mask and minimises physical contact with people.

“I can only pray that I don’t catch the virus. My new job poses a health risk, but I don’t have much choice as I need a salary to feed my family.”

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