Malaysia's jobless rates fall as economy starts up again

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in April, car salesman Muhammad Nasrul Musa lost everything he had - his job, his savings, and even his car.

But things started to look up after Malaysia's movement curbs were lifted in stages from May, when the country cautiously reopened many sectors, providing new jobs for the thousands who were laid off overnight.

Mr Muhammad Nasrul, 40, said he is slowly regaining his footing after he managed to get a job as a research consultant at a firm in Glenmarie, Selangor.

"It's a part-time gig but I'm very happy because even though there are a lot of companies looking for people now, the truth is it's not as easy to land one," the father of two told The Straits Times.

Ms Noor Laily Izzati Hamid, 37, was retrenched from her job as a clerk not long after the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed on March 18, shutting down all sectors save for essential services.

On seeing a spike in demand for online shopping and home deliveries, she decided to try her hand at providing these services to support her family.

"I was retrenched in late March. It was so sudden but instead of dwelling on it, I decided to start an online business on top of becoming a Foodpanda delivery rider," said the mother of three, who now earns at least RM2,000 (S$660) more than what she previously did.

Mr Muhammad Nasrul and Ms Noor Laily are just two examples of how new opportunities have emerged for job-seekers amid the pandemic, which has taken lives and livelihoods from around the world as governments battle the deadly virus.

In May, two months after Malaysia implemented the MCO, the unemployment rate went up to 5.3 per cent, from 5 per cent in April and 3.9 per cent in March.

However, it began a gradual downward trend after curbs were gradually relaxed, dropping to 4.9 per cent in June and dipping further to 4.7 per cent in July.

Malaysia's unemployment rates hovered between 3.2 per cent and 3.3 per cent late last year.

A Grab spokesman told ST: "Covid-19 has definitely highlighted how the gig economy has become an integral part of the new economy. During the movement control, when many Malaysians lost their income, it created earning opportunities for those who needed them."

More than 10,000 people joined Grab as driver and delivery partners during the recovery phase of the MCO.

The demand for delivery services also rose significantly during the partial shutdown.

"Our deliveries grew by more than 30 per cent, therefore we had to pivot our services and operations to ensure all our partners' livelihoods were protected.

"This included moving over 100,000 drivers to support deliveries to provide them an alternative source of income, as our transport business was heavily affected."

The number of employed persons in July was 15.07 million, an increase of 0.6 per cent from June, according to Malaysia's chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin.

Most economic sectors, such as those related to education and tourism, have posted an increase in the number of employed persons since June as sectors slowly reopened. However, the figures are still not on par with those recorded before the pandemic hit.

"Although the labour market is within the path to recovery, the number of unemployed was still high as against the period of January to February this year, where the average number of unemployed was about 518,000," Datuk Seri Mohd Uzir told ST.

The government has introduced several initiatives and stimulus packages since end-March to aid citizens, including providing wage subsidies, reskilling and upskilling programmes, hiring and training assistance as well as social protection for the gig economy.

Mr Mohd Uzir noted that with the reopening of childcare centres, schools, universities and colleges, related activities such as school bus services, canteens and tuition centres have also felt the positive impact.

Parents are able to return to work.

Many have also taken the opportunity to travel domestically, amid the continued closure of Malaysia's borders until Dec 31. As such, demand for accommodation, food and beverages, entertainment and recreational services has risen in tandem, encouraging businesses to retain or even increase job opportunities.

"In other words, the resumption of economic activities has resulted in the revival of the labour force situation."

Malaysia's economy is showing signs of gradual recovery in the coming months, provided the country continues to contain the outbreak, Mr Mohd Uzir added.

The number of Covid-19 cases, however, has risen over the last week. On Sunday, there were 150 new cases and one death, from 82 cases on Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia's jobless rates fall as economy starts up again'. Print Edition | Subscribe