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No US-style mass lay-offs expected in Malaysia, experts say

But while workers may retain their jobs, more might be forced to find ways to supplement their income by joining the gig sector to meet the rising cost of living.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Jobseekers enquire at one of the booths at a recent job fair in Taman Melawati, Selangor.
Jobseekers enquire at one of the booths at a recent job fair in Taman Melawati, Selangor.

Experts predict that Malaysia will buck the trend of mass lay-offs currently seen in the US where more than 70,000 have been discharged in a wave led by tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify and IBM amid concerns over a global economic downturn.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) acknowledged that 2023 would be a challenging year for Malaysia as well. 

However, MEF president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said the number of employees losing their jobs had been on a downtrend since 2020. 

"From Jan 1 to 20, 3,181 employees were laid off," he said. 

"Based on the number of employees who lost their jobs up to Jan 20, the number of lay-offs in 2023 is projected to be 61,000." 

A total of 107,704 Malaysians lost their jobs in 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic began sweeping across the country. 

Another 61,360 were laid off the following year. Last year, the number shrank to 34,388. 

Syed Hussain said the local job market was in fact expected to benefit from strong domestic demand, the reopening of China after three years of adhering to a strict "zero Covid" policy, and the revival of construction projects. 

"The unemployment rate is below the 4% threshold, which puts Malaysia at full employment as per international standards specified by the International Labour Organization," he said. 

Shahryn Azmi, founder of local gig jobs portal MakeTimePay, said any mass lay-offs in Malaysia would likely come as part of moves by US companies to rationalise their global operation costs.

"We also have to look at the types of workers being laid off in the US," he said. 

"A close examination indicates that this may actually be just a significant housecleaning effort after a long period of overhiring.

"Google, for instance, has laid off its 31 massage therapists – about 6% of the 12,000 staff members laid off company-wide." 

In Malaysia, Shahryn said, the problem was more likely the rising cost of living and employers' unwillingness or inability to raise their employees' salaries. 

As a result, he added, some were looking for ways to supplement their income even while holding down full-time jobs. 

"They are effectively becoming gig workers, but with a firmer income base because they are also fully employed," he said. 

He warned that this would continue to be the case pending a solution to the gap between salary and cost of living, envisioning a scenario where the majority of workers choose to be self-employed, working only in the gig market on a permanent basis. 

Syed Husman meanwhile said that Malaysia continues to face a shortage of foreign workers, of between 700,000 to 800,000.