KUCHING (Oct 13): The recent announcement that 32,000 foreign workers have been approved for entry into Malaysia from mid-October by Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin is most welcomed news for the palm oil industry in Malaysia, in particular for Sarawak, said Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa).
Soppoa chief executive officer Felix Moh said this is the most refreshing and welcomed news for the palm oil industry here as Sarawak has very acute shortage of foreign workers which had adversely affected the industry since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced in March 2020.
“As informed by the MPIC (Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities) minister, the workers will comprise Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers and we certainly hope that our applications for these foreign workers will also be in the approved list, though we can only get Indonesian workers as mandated by the Sarawak government for plantation industry here,” Moh said in a statement.
He added that Soppoa has also appealed to the Chief Minister, Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, to grant approval for Bangladeshi workers for the plantation industry here as they are capable of working in oil palm plantations as proven in other parts of Malaysia.
If approved for Sarawak, he said the Bangladeshi workers will certainly ease the acute shortage in the oil palm estates spread across the state.
Currently, not only the palm oil industry is short of Indonesian workers, other sectors like construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, logistic and services industries are also very much dependent on them, he added.
“Soppoa has held dialogues with the relevant ministries and authorities in Sarawak and the Indonesian Consulate here on the shortage of foreign workers for the palm oil industry here and as requested, we have also set up the necessary quarantine centres in our estates to prepare for entry of new foreign workers when they arrive.
“We are very hopeful that the Sarawak government will also grant approval for entry of foreign workers for the palm oil industry here following the announcement by the MPIC minister,” he said.
It was also noted by various industry analysts during the recent launching of the East Malaysia Crude Palm Oil Futures (FEPO) that the palm oil industry in Sarawak faced acute shortage of workers which resulted in the lower industry output the previous quarters.
“As noted by the MPIC minister, Malaysians are not interested to work in the palm oil industry as harvesters which in turn meant that foreign workers are needed for the jobs as currently there are no suitable machinery capable of doing harvesting effectively.
“It should also be noted that Sarawak has the largest planted area for oil palm which in turn meant that even more harvesters are required as these estates are spread all over the state,” Moh pointed out.
During this economic downturn brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, the palm oil industry continues to be a strong revenue earner for the state and country through export and could be even more productive if the workers shortage could be addressed quickly.
Soppoa said it fully understands the constraints of the state in allowing for foreign workers entry into Sarawak during the pandemic but with the various SOPs now being introduced for foreign workers entry, it is timely to consider allowing new workers into Sarawak to enable the palm oil industry here to improve productivity for the benefit of the state and nation.