The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) today urged Utusan Melayu Bhd chairperson Abdul Aziz Sheikh Fadzir to release all of his shares in the newspaper company.
NUJ secretary-general Chi Sung Chew claimed that the move was necessary for the future of the workers and staff of Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd, a company which is now in turmoil.
"Although Umno is no longer the largest shareholder, the party is using its proxy, Abdul Aziz as the executive chairperson to continue to control this newspaper," he alleged.
Chin said NUJ members are now facing a debt burden due to the management's failure to pay their salaries.
"Some of our members had to give their little children some syrup to replace milk as they could no longer afford (the latter) due to lack of money.
"Our members are also in debt because they have no paycheck to pay for personal loans, homes and vehicles.
"Even refueling a vehicle to get to work is expensive," he said.
Chin particularly lamented the cases of married couples who both worked in Utusan and were not being paid their wages.
Not mincing his words, Chew said, "Umno does not care about the fate of Utusan staff at this time and is willing to see Malay workers suffer for their own political gain."
"If Umno is unable to keep Utusan alive and provide better working conditions for its staff, it's better to release its stake to keep the newspaper alive," he told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur today.
It was previously reported that after repeated delays in the payment of their salaries affected some 800 NUJ members, Utusan employees are set to picket on Aug 19.
According to the report, salaries for executive staff were also delayed for two months, with the last partial payment of RM2,000 being paid in June.
Abdul Aziz served as state assemblyperson for Kuala Ketil from 2004 to 2008 and Kulim MP from 2013 to 2018.
He is the younger brother of former information minister and culture, arts and tourism minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir.
Utusan has been beset by financial problems following the defeat of Umno and BN in the 14th general election.
Among the steps the company has taken are selling its properties, offering a voluntary separation scheme to more than half of its staff, closing agencies and bringing in outside investors to help the company settle its debt.
This comes after the company was classified as a Practice Note (PN17) company in August 2018 and was at the risk of being delisted from Bursa Malaysia due to financial constraints.