KUALA LUMPUR: All economic sectors and borders may be open now, but many businesses remain partially closed due to the ongoing labour shortage.

This lack of workers is stopping many businesses, including restaurants, from operating on a 24-hour basis despite being able to do so after the country entered the transition to endemic phase last Friday.

A check around the federal capital found many mamak restaurant operators only opening up to 2am.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said this is because many restaurants don’t have enough workers to meet the high demand, especially during Ramadan.

He said only 25% of the 9,000 Presma members nationwide are able to currently operate 24 hours.

“The demand is there, more so during the fasting month, for sahur (the pre-dawn meal). But many workers returned to their countries during the movement control order,” he told Bernama here yesterday.

Jawahar appealed to the government to facilitate the entry of foreign workers.

Ampang branch Pelita Nasi Kandar Restaurant manager Hassan Mohideen said his restaurant has many customers, but is short of workers.

“We have been able to cope with the increased business volume since the start of Ramadan, but after this, we just don’t know,” he added.

In JOHOR BARU, the need for workers has become more urgent following the reopening of the Malaysia-Singapore border.

Restaurant owner Hussein Ibrahim, 60, said his workers from India have been asking to return home as the border is now open.

“Although we could apply to get foreign workers, it is a long process filled with uncertainty.

“I had 15 workers before the pandemic and almost half of them have returned to their home country. Even now, my remaining seven foreign workers have been asking if they can go home.

“I feel sorry for them as I know they miss their families,” he said, adding that he is trying to find replacements and hopes the government can help bring in foreign workers.

Hussein, who is also Johor Indian Muslim Entrepreneur Association secretary, said his attempts to woo locals to work at his two restaurants in Johor Baru have been unsuccessful.

Coffee shop owner Roland Lim, 68, said some of his local workers are also looking for jobs in Singapore now that the borders have reopened.

“The salary in Singapore is a lot higher due to the currency exchange rate and many people here prefer working there.

“Previously, many had to leave their jobs in the island republic due to the border closure.

“Now that it is open, they are planning to go back there,” he added.

Lim, who is Johor Baru Business and Hawker Association president, said it is also difficult for him to get foreign workers these days due to the lengthy application process.

“I only have one worker from Indonesia at the moment.

“I plan to get more workers as my coffee shop is busier now. However, it’s not that easy.

“Apart from the long process, it’s also difficult for me to recruit workers from Indonesia at the moment,” he added.

S. Sures, who runs a shop in Johor Baru selling clothes, said he also finds it difficult to recruit both local and foreign workers.

The reopening of the borders has helped to improve his business, but he doesn’t have enough workers to cope with the high number of customers.

“It’s difficult to get local workers as they prefer to work in Singapore where the salary is better. We cannot afford to match the salaries there,” he added.

Sures said he had eight shops in Johor Baru prior to the pandemic, but seven had to close because of slow business.

“Although business has been improving, it is still a far cry from how things were prior to the pandemic,” said Sures, who had 50 foreign workers before Covid-19 hit.