Oil palm sector labour shortage: SOPPOA suggests Sarawak govt open doors to foreign workers

Gerawat (seated, second right) in a photo with the delegation from SOPPOA.

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KUCHING, June 30: The Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) has proposed that the Sarawak government consider hiring foreign workers from East Timor, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to address the labour shortage in the oil palm sector that has seen major production losses since the pandemic.

SOPPOA chairman Eric Kiu said that unlike other states, only Indonesians are allowed to work in oil palm plantations in Sarawak.

“Even with the opening of borders (in April) and a series of announcements by Putrajaya, Sarawak still has yet to witness any inbound foreign workers for employment in the oil palm sector.

“This industry has suffered from production losses as a result of labor shortages since the pandemic and needs about 45,000 foreign workers to bring the operation back to normal,” he said in a statement today.

Kiu has made the suggestion that the Sarawak government consider sourcing foreign workers from more than one country during a courtesy call on Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Datuk Gerawat Gala yesterday (June 29).

“South Korean companies have recruited Timorese to work in their country since 2009. Due to their similarity in terms of culture and language with Indonesia, it would be advantageous for Sarawak to consider hiring Timorese to work in the oil palm plantation too,” he pointed out.

In the meeting, Gerawat also informed the Association that his Department has recently submitted a paper to the Cabinet to include three additional source countries for foreign workers.

Noting their predicament, Gerawat also agreed that there were many signs that the Indonesian government does not encourage its citizens to work in the country, more so with the development of Indonesia’s new capital Nusantara that would require about one million workforce.

The Deputy Minister also informed SOPPOA that the Department has looked into streamlining all the processes for foreign recruitment with priority to cut short the processing time.

Gerawat told Kiu that the time for applying AP quota that used to take up to two to three months is shortened to not more than one and half months; the new labor license application that takes two to three months is cut to within seven days; and Calling Visa application from two to four months to less than 30 days.

Gerawat also iterated that his department is acting as a ‘one-stop centre’ for foreign worker recruitment and by incorporating ICT, the recruitment processing time should be improved dramatically soon. — DayakDaily