KOTA KINABALU: An acute foreign labour shortage in Sabah's oil palm plantations has led to planters seeking government intervention to reopen borders to get their workers back.
"There is an estimated shortage of around 10,000 workers," said East Malaysian Planters Association (EMPA) president Hanas Hakmad, adding that losses were around 10% to 15% annually.
All plantations, whether the big ones or the smallholders, have been severely affected, he said.
He said there was also a need to revamp existing policies to meet the labour needs of the industry, which has been facing such shortages even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two months ago, EMPA had submitted its proposals to the state government on ways to resolve the foreign labour force dilemma in Sabah, he said.
Among others, it had suggested that Sabah be allowed to recruit foreign female workers as well as foreign labour from other countries besides Indonesia and the Philippines.
He said they had proposed that the state open up its foreign labour force intake to workers from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China.
EMPA was of the view that female labourers could be deployed for tasks such as weeding and fertiliser application works while male workers could be deployed for the harvesting job.
"This will reduce the sole dependence on male workers. It will also stabilise the labour force especially when the workers are made up of couples. Male workers especially those with wives will stay longer," he added.
He said EMPA had also asked that the quota of labour interviews be increased to at least three times a month instead of once a month.
As for termination of service, he said: "We are proposing to the government to allow the employer to replace the labour quota based on the cancellation of work permits so that replacements of workers can be carried out as soon as possible."
In Johor, Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng admitted that the lack of manpower in the palm oil industry has led to losses of about RM14bil.
Wee said the closure of borders worldwide due to the Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult to attain foreign labour.
"We have tried very hard to get locals to take up the jobs in the palm oil industry but many are not interested.
"As such, we have appealed to the government to look into allowing the entry of foreign workers to work in the plantation industry and they have agreed to bring in some 32,000 foreigners to work as harvesters.
"Although we still need more workers in the plantation sector, including the palm oil industry, we hope to be able to reduce losses with the entry of the 32,000 workers," he said at a press conference after handing over some 10,000 Covid-19 test kits from Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) to the Tanjung Piai community in Pontian.
"The government recently announced that the SOP for the entry of the foreign workers has been approved and we hope this could be executed as soon as possible.
"However, it is also important to ensure strict compliance to the SOP outlined," he said.
On Friday (Oct 22), Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the SOP for the entry of foreign workers had been approved to meet the workforce demand by the plantation sector.
He said the same SOP would later be enforced on all sectors, while the approval to bring in workers from abroad would be on a case-by-case basis.
"The quota (of workers) and date of entry for foreign workers will depend on the decision to be jointly made by the Home and Human Resources ministries,” he said.
Source : https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/10/25/oil-palm-plantations-in-dire-need-of-workers652