MEOA: Money rotting on trees, plantation sector needs workers badly

Oil palm plantation (file photo)

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KUCHING, Dec 7: The Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA) has urged the government to give serious attention to resolving the acute shortage of workers in the plantation sector across the whole of Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah which is in dire need of close to an additional of 200,000 foreign workers as “crops are rotting on trees and losses continue”.

MEOA president Jeffrey Ong pointed out that out of the 56,282 recruitment applications approved for the plantation sector as of Oct 3 this year, this has only translated to an actual realised entry of 12,390 foreign workers for the sector. 

“This works out to be only a 22 per cent success rate for foreign worker entry against the total approved applications, but a striking and undesirable 9 per cent successful entry rate set against the total number of foreign worker applications.

“What is clear is that there is still a wide gap and much work to do on the recruitment and the return of foreign workers, along with the search for the numbers of foreign workers required in the plantation sector,” he said in a statement today.

This matter was raised during National Labour Forum (NLF) 2022 organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) with the theme ‘Mitigating Challenges on the Imperatives of Workforce in Plantation Sector’ held yesterday (Dec 6) in Subang.

The forum was attended by many stakeholders from the Malaysian plantation industry including representatives from the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) and East Malaysia Planters Association (Empa).

Ong disclosed that total foreign workers deemed active in the plantation sector stood at 150,608 as of Sept 30, 2022.

Set against Peninsular Malaysia’s total oil palm planted area of 2.6 million hectares, he said this translate to a labour-to-land ratio (Labour:Land ratio) of 1:17.

“No oil palm estate can sustainably operate beyond the ratio of 1:14, especially if they do not or cannot mechanise.

“Due to the acute shortages of workers in the plantation sector, the total number of applications for foreign workers as of Nov 2, 2022 stood at 131,164 workers.

“Taking the present number of workers and assuming 100 per cent success rate for new applications entering and working, this will add up to a total of 281,772 workers in the plantation sector, translating to a labour-to-land ratio of around 1:9, a closer indicator to the normal ratio of 1:8 used as reference for Labour:Land ratio in oil palm plantations in Peninsular Malaysia,” he elaborated.

However, Ong emphasised that the numbers of foreign workers required in Sabah and Sarawak are not included, and which Soppoa and Empa have estimated that foreign workers in the oil palm sector in Sarawak and Sabah stands at 45,000 and 20,000, respectively.

Ong also highlighted that MPOA’s latest survey revealed that the recruitment of foreign workers from January to November 2022 among its 10 planter members in Malaysia indicated that its members had higher success rate.

“This may be attributed to its members having operations and in-house recruitment services in the source countries to facilitate the recruitment processes. The sampled MPOA members had 49 per cent successful entry against the approved foreign workers but stood at 19 per cent of successful entry to-date against the total foreign workers required.

“In simple terms, the bigger plantation groups have an efficient recruitment rate of two foreign workers to every one for the rest of the industry now.

“MEOA together with all the other stakeholders look forward to engaging with the government and the relevant authorities to expedite the process (foreign worker recruitment),” he added. — DayakDaily