KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 — After two months of not being allowed to operate, some barbers in the capital have taken to making house-calls in order to keep food on the table.
Checks on social media platforms like Instagram show a few advertising their house-call services, promising customers they are in healthy condition, in addition to wearing masks and gloves.
In a bid to convince customers, some barbers have also taken to display so-called “Covid-19 certification” by American company King Research Inc that supplies barber products under the brand Barbicide, signed by the president of the company Alan Murphy.
However, checks by Malay Mail showed that in order to “receive” the certification, one would only need to take a course on Barbicide’s website.
In the course, participants are informed of several facts involving Covid-19, such as how it spreads, the importance of social distancing and sanitising surfaces, and the need to wear personal protective equipments (PPE).
They will then need to answer 12 questions in a quiz related to the previous course. One need to score at least 10 correct answers to receive the certificate.
When we contacted (anonymously, of course) one such barber shop which provides house calls in the Shah Alam area and asked if a barber could come to Taman Tun Dr Ismail, we were asked to head to a personal residence instead.
“We only deal with two to three customers a day. This part of our business is ‘underground’,” said the shop owner.
However, Malaysian Bumiputera Barber Association (MBBA) president TN Winda Mohd Tahir said it would be unfair of the government to put a stop to these house calls, claiming some ministers and police officers in Bukit Aman have contacted their members for the service.
In one case, the barber was even offered RM1,000 for a simple haircut. He did not divulge the details of these clients.
“If the government is not going to allow any hair cutting services, it should be across the board and be fair to everyone. Don’t call our members and ask them to provide their services on an individual basis.
“We’ve received reports that a minister offered one of our members RM1,000 for his haircut and even offered to get his driver to fetch him. One of them also received a call from a Bukit Aman boss asking him to provide haircuts for police officers.
“The National Security Council (NSC) also contacted us to give haircuts to front-liners. But when we asked about opening our shops or if it’s okay for our members to conduct house calls, they were not clear about it,” he said.
Malay Mail has yet to verify TN Winda’s claim with Putrajaya and Bukit Aman.
Following such incidents, barbers have since started offering house calls after they heard about their peers being "summoned" for these private gigs.
TN Winda, who is also a hair stylist himself, said he noticed many ministers and government officials appear well-groomed when speaking on TV, unlike some news presenters with their "amateur" haircuts.
Last month, Putrajaya briefly considered allowing the barber service sub-sector to operate during Phase Three of the MCO, from April 14 to April 28.
However, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on the eve of Phase Three that barber shops and hair salons would not be allowed to operate.
As a result of the government’s U-turn, barber shops and hair salons have remained shuttered, even as many businesses resumed operations starting May 4.
TN Winda pointed out that many of his association’s 400 to 500 members belong in the M40 or B40 category, depending on whether they are employed in a barber shop or are the salon owners themselves.
“Our gross revenue is around RM10,000 to RM15,000 for a set-up with two chairs, two employees, located in the suburbs. With this amount, the owners will have to pay salary which is around RM1,200 to RM1,500 per employee,” he said.
In Malaysia, local barbers mostly earn a living through either a commission of between 40 and 60 per cent of the payment per head, or by renting a chair per day and receiving the whole payment, or receiving a monthly wage and receiving a lower commission per head — the last is the most popular.
“They will also have to pay for their overhead costs such as rental and electricity. There are tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — barbers and salon owners in the country. The salons have a different calculation for their revenue.
“Imagine how much economic loss the country has suffered since their shutdown and also the personal losses many of these businesses face? Some barbershops have already permanently shut down and are auctioning off their equipment,” the association president lamented.
At the same time, he added that MBBA has sent proposals for new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to the NSC and the Health Ministry so that a certain level of safety can be maintained when they reopen.
TN Winda explained that it was better for the government to allow barbershops to operate instead of letting them do house-calls, as it would limit the barbers’ movement and exposure to the coronavirus.
“One of our proposals is to allow neighbourhood barbershops in green zones to operate and limit the number of customers that can enter the shop. We’ve also proposed our own SOPs for our barbers.
“They will be required to wear face masks, the plastic face-guards, plastic aprons, and gloves. Customers must register for contact tracing and we must provide hand sanitisers for our customers.
"We will also limit our services purely to cutting hair, no more face massages or shaving.
“If the government will not allow us to operate, then they shouldn’t stop us from making house-calls as long as we observe the SOP. Otherwise, our families will starve,” said TN Winda.
Malaysia is currently under the conditional MCO until June 9, with several other businesses already allowed to fully operate.