Franklin Francis is in his 40s and lives in Sungai Petani, Kedah with his aged mother and older sister. He started work with an e-hailing company driver earlier this year, after being retrenched from his factory in late 2019. He had worked in that factory for more than 20 years but lost his job when the factory owners decided to shut down the Sungai Petani factory. He was only paid the sum of 3 months’ salary as compensation. He found it difficult to find another job in Sungai Petani because of his age and medical condition. We spoke to him at the beginning of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to find out how it has affected his life.

How are you coping with the Movement Control Order (MCO) that has been enforced to curb the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The past few weeks has been extremely frustrating because I can’t go out to earn money. I also find that I am more anxious and easily irritable with those around me. I try really hard to be calm but the situation is quite stressful, not only for me but for mum and sister as well. I worry daily about the bills that need to be paid as well as money for daily expenditure such as buying groceries, etc. It is stressful when you dip into your savings, knowing that you are not earning an income. For now, I manage stress by gardening.

How are members of your family coping?

Mum seems to be okay, since she is a home-maker and enjoys staying at home. At least I think so – she might not enjoy having both her children at home 24 hours, 7 days a week with her, though. My sister is a little anxious about her salary for this month (April). She works in a factory and since operations were downsized, she is not sure if she will be paid this month. She was paid in March. She is too nervous to check with the factory, just in case they take action by firing her. I guess I would say that the anxiety of not being able to earn an income is the biggest worry we have at home. 

The government has announced some benefits to help with payments such as bank loans, etc. What is your opinion – is the government doing enough?

I am not really sure. My sister and I did receive the money through the Bantuan Prihatin National (BPN). My mother, although she was born in Malaysia in 1957, has a red identity card. This means she is not entitled for any of the benefits. We are not sure why she has a red ID card – we had made many applications for her Malaysia ID card, and to get her citizenship recognised, but the government never seemed to care. She is rejected all the time.

My main concern is for daily wage earners like me and other e-hailing or taxi drivers, as this money only acts as a band-aid but does not really solve our financial worries. For example, I still have a house loan to pay off but I haven’t earned much money for the last month and I am not sure when I can earn money again to put aside for all the payments that need to be made. The postponement of loan repayments for 6 months is helpful but does not really resolve matters in the long run. 

Just to explain this further, I use to be able to earn about RM70-RM80 a day after deducting costs, such as percentage taken by the e-hailing company, petrol, toll and car maintenance costs. Then, in the last month, on the days I managed to go out, I have only earned about RM7-RM10. I usually have to drive around for more than 2 hours and sometimes, I still do not get any passengers. Occasionally, I do not take the full fare, especially from poor migrant workers, because they are also struggling so much in this lockdown. The decision that only one passenger can ride in a car, was not a good idea for the poor. The poor especially migrant workers, usually share the fare cost – and now they can’t do this. It increases their burden.

Don’t the e-hailing companies have incentives for drivers during the MCO? 

According to the last notification I received, this is still being discussed with the government. They have allowed drivers to do deliveries of food or via the mart, but many of us are concerned about doing deliveries. We have heard rumours that there may have been cases where illegal stuff was sent via these services, and the unknowing driver gets caught by the police. For many of us with families to take care of, we don’t dare take these risks. 

It would be good if for the next 6 months or more, e-hailing companies could reduce the percentage that is taken from the drivers. We, the drivers, know that the company also has overhead costs, but it will be a huge help if they can reduce the current percentage to a much lower amount – temporarily until we can get back on our feet.  

What would you like to see the government do to help daily-wage earners as yourself?

I understand that this pandemic is something that none of us have seen before. But I believe that if the government is truly PRIHATIN, then they need to also look into long term solutions for daily wage earners like e-hailing and taxi drivers. They should make sure that we have social security nets in place for times of crises like this. I appreciate their immediate assistance in the money given through BPN, but this is just like a band-aid and doesn’t solve the more serious problems that daily wage earners like me face. 

The government must get the banks to recalculate all the interest for housing loans, especially for those of us earning less than RM2000 a month. This can be easily done if the government truly cares about the people like they say they do. We do want to repay our loans, but it is the interest that kills us. In my case, my house loan interest is actually double the price of my house. I got a very high interest rate on the loan because my salary in the factory was low. 

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