KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 11): Many Malaysians work two jobs to supplement their income, but they now feel the pinch from the rising cost of living.
And to them, the suggestion by Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan to work two jobs was not only stating the obvious, but also unsympathetic.
Clerk by day, driver by night
Amiruddin Man, a clerk at a higher education institution in Penang, took on a second job two years ago, driving a taxi after he clocked out from work.
But owner of the taxi has since taken back the vehicle, and Amiruddin now uses his own car to drive customers.
"If I were to rent a taxi, it would cost me RM40 a day, which is not worth it because I can only start after 6pm, and business is slow on weekdays," the 31-year-old told The Malaysian Insider.
Amiruddin now uses his private car despite knowing it is illegal, but said it was a risk he had to face.
He said he was not a registered Uber driver because he could not meet the kind of conditions and requirements laid down by Uber.
"This is a 'teksi sapu' (illegal taxi) job, but that’s all I can do now. I just pray I don't get caught. I have been lucky so far.
"I am not getting rich from it. I only serve my regulars who contact me if they need a ride. If there are no calls, then I stay home. I only get an average of RM200 to RM300 a month, which is just enough to cover my monthly petrol expenses.
"I get better business during weekends and holidays. Sometimes my friends with small businesses call when they need help to deliver their products like gifts and cakes to customers. I take what they can afford to pay me. I don't fix a rate," he said.
Amiruddin admitted he was not allowed to take a second job without his employer's permission.
"I have colleagues who are also working second jobs, but we all make sure our other jobs do not affect our day jobs. We only do it after our official working hours.
"This means we have to sacrifice our time with our families, working nights and weekends. Sometimes I have late customers and only get home after midnight when everyone is asleep."
Together with his wife, who is also a clerk at the same institution, their monthly household income is less than RM4,000, out of which their expenses take up RM1,800.
He said they spent about RM400 on groceries, another RM400 on food at work, RM250 for petrol and another RM250 for after-school daycare for their son, who is in Year Three.
"We set aside RM60 a month for pocket money for our boy, and around RM185 for our utilities, Astro and phone bills. We also pay the RM80 maintenance fee for our home.
"We are still trying to cut down on spending so we can save more. Eating out is getting more expensive, so we cook and eat at home. Sometimes, we just have bread for dinner," he said.
The couple also have to pay their housing loan of RM500 a month.
"We are staying at my father's place in Bukit Jambul, which is not far from our workplace and our son's school. This way we can save a bit on petrol.
"My wife and I have a place which we are renting out for RM400 a month. It is not enough to cover the bank loan, but at least it is still something."
But Amiruddin does not blame his low income as much as the economic situation and the goods and services tax (GST), which have caused prices to go up.
"Even if my pay is increased, I don't think it will help much if things keep getting pricier. We get some government aid but it can only last you so long.
"It is tough for people with schooling kids. School fees, school supplies and other things are becoming more expensive too," he said, adding that he could not even take his son for a holiday outside Penang.
Juggling home, kid, and two businesses
Since 2014, housewife Siti Hajar Hasan has been running an online business selling supplements and Muslim women clothes to help lessen her family's financial burden.
Her online business, via Facebook, her blog and Instagram account, earned her a three- or four-digit income a month, depending on how hard she worked.
"How hard I work and earn depends on how much money my family needs for the month. I have not been doing it very seriously. It is quite time-consuming and I also have a young daughter and home to manage.
"You need to be able to watch your social media accounts closely, answer queries and take orders as they come. If you don't respond fast enough, you lose your potential client," said the 27-year-old.
But now, to cope with the rising cost of living, Siti Hajar has taken on another job – managing a new kindergarten in Kepala Batas, mainland Penang.
That job adds another RM1,000 to her family’s income, which previously depended heavily on the RM3,000 salary of her husband, who is a state civil servant.
She hoped her family of three in Seberang Jaya, Penang – they have a five-year-old child – could live more comfortably with the additional income to cover their monthly expenses of over RM2,000.
The couple spend RM800 on their car loan and house rent, RM600 on food and groceries, RM500 on their phones, Internet and utility bills, and RM300 on petrol, toll and public transport.
Siti Hajar said her husband took the bus and ferry to work on the island instead of driving to cut down on expenses.
"Who wants to work hard if they can take things easy at home? We were doing just okay before but the cost of living is going up.
"We cannot just rely on my husband's income. So we are making sacrifices... at least I can say I have my dream job since I always wanted to work at a kindergarten."
Siti Hajar is hopeful the kindergarten, with 13 pupils aged between four and six, will take off and be sustainable, so her income from the enterprise will be stable.
"We were thinking that during a slow economy, education will be a business that can still survive. People will still have to send their kids to kindergarten and school," she said.
Still working dawn to dusk at 54
For more than 30 years, office runner, K. Chandrasegaran, has been waking up before dawn to sell newspapers between 6am and 7am, before starting for his regular 9am-5pm office job.
The father of three earns about RM2,500 monthly from this, and has managed to support all his children up till tertiary level education.
At 54 and nearing retirement age, Chandrasegaran has one less mouth to feed since his eldest son has started working in Singapore, and is not too worried about his shrinking income due to a decline in newspaper circulation.
But he admitted that his family had to make a conscious decision to spend less due to the increase in prices of food and utility bills.
"I am glad my son managed to get work in Singapore where the currency is better than ours now. He is not contributing to the family expenses yet, but I believe it will be easier for him to do so after working a few years," he said.
More belt-tightening for single mum
Single mother Nur Suria Abd Aziz, 38, is a cook and food stall assistant by day, and a supermarket promoter by night. She earns a total of RM1,320 from both jobs.
Since her divorce two years ago, she has been the sole provider for her five children aged between 6 and 16 years.
"It has been an uphill struggle for me for some time now and the increase in overall costs has put a strain on my finances.
"I have had to search diligently for cheaper alternatives in terms of school bus operators and babysitters for my children.
"However, holding two jobs is not new for me as I used to do it even when I was married.
"Only now, we have to tighten our belts even more," said Nur Suria, from Desa Pakatan, Ipoh.
Nur Suria said she initially tried to apply for aid from the Welfare Department, but was put off after an officer who came to inspect her home conditions remarked that she did not derserve aid because she had a television set and sofa in her house.
"The furniture was provided by my ex-husband who has since moved out. He does provide a small stipend for us but it is really hard to get by on my salary alone sometimes.
"A friend of mine also received similar treatment when applying for aid and after that, we stopped trying," she said.
Two or more jobs a way of life
Since her student days, Susan Ho, 28, has done part-time jobs to support herself.
In the past five years, she has worked as a kindergarten teacher, freelance writer for a community paper and also taught piano lessons at the same time.
This year, however, she decided to seek greener pastures in Kuala Lumpur, lured by the promise of more substantial wages.
She said prices of food in her hometown of Ipoh had increased so much that they were almost on par the Klang Valley.
"The reason I dabbled in a few jobs was because the earning power from a single income in Ipoh was small.
"My pay from all three jobs combined amounted to between RM2,800 and RM3,000, just enough for me to cover my bills.
"At this rate, it will be a long time before I can afford to purchase a house of my own, which is my dream. That is why I decided to move to Kuala Lumpur, where I can earn at least RM4,000 basic pay," she said.
Susan works as a marketing manager and is now considering to teach piano part-time or becoming a Uber driver to boost her income and increase her savings.