Bill Jugah: Delay recruitment of foreign workers for oil palm industry

Bill Jugah

KUCHING, Dec 31: Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) Rajang branch strongly opposes the recent government decision to allow recruitment of foreign workers into the oil palm industry, which began on Jan 1, 2021.

According to its chairman Bill Jugah, there are numerous reasons for this, including how it would affect the local community, especially the indigenous people nearby the oil palm estates, where the two groups interact, work and commune together.

“I am aware that the government is considering the economic aspect of the situation so that concerned companies would be able to generate crucially-needed revenue for the state and encourage the economy to bounce back. However, agent recruitment fees for foreign workers negates that because that is an outflow of precious domestic funds sorely-needed at this time.”

“Speaking from a collective eight-year experience in foreign worker management, I am aware of the many loopholes of the recruitment industry where the weakness of the current system can be exploited. For example, logistics arrangements and medical checkups can be doctored. Name lists of workers can be manipulated to tally with the list corresponding to the AP (Approval In Principle). This is all because there are too many corrupted parties involved in the process.”

“Additionally, from the viewpoint of companies, they would incur additional monetary costs from having to bear the quarantine and transport costs aside from the usual levy fees, medical checkups and recruitment fees. In fact, there would be a heightened risk factor especially during this period if some of these workers abscond and thereby adding to the swollen numbers of illegal workers,” he said in a statement today.

Bill opined there are other ingenious ways to address the issue of lack of workers in the oil palm industry, such as documenting current illegal workers engaged by companies’ contractors but they need to undergo the full regiment of Covid-19 testing.

He said an engagement with the local landowners to be involved in the plantation join-venture via contracted harvesting can also be done, where companies can award the manuring and harvesting contract to the native landowners, who in turn need to meet the yield-per-hectare production.

He pointed that it is aligned with Article 8.2(b) in the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) where states must provide redress for any action deemed to dispose of lands, territories and resources.

“This would invariably thrust the government in a better light in the eyes of the people because they can also participate in nation-building; a step forward in the mitigation of 400 land disputes cases in court currently.

“This step can also return the nation to a respectable status after three large companies namely FGV Holdings, Top Glove and Sime Darby were imposed import ban by the US for issues of human rights abuse and forced labour,” he added.

As leaders, he reminded us, involved in the decision-making process of the nation and thereby the fate and livelihood of its citizens, must conduct due diligence on our decisions to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome.

“Otherwise we need to own up to our mistakes and errors and risk being immortalised in the proverbial hall of shame,” he said. –DayakDaily.