Oil palm sector: Sarawak may hire Timorese workers following Indonesian workers shortage

Mohamad Abu Bakar (fourth right) with Kiu (on his right) in a group photo with others during the courtesy visit last Friday (Aug 19, 2022). Photo: Soppoa

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KUCHING, Aug 21: Sarawak may look into the suitability of hiring foreign workers from Timor-Leste to work in oil palm plantations in the State to cope with the labour shortage of Indonesian workers.

This transpired during a courtesy visit from the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) delegation led by its chairman Eric Kiu Kwong Seng to State Secretary Dato Sri Mohamad Abu Bakar Marzuki at Wisma Bapa Malaysia here last Friday (Aug 19).

According to a statement issued by SOPPOA chief executive officer Dr Felix Moh Mee Ho today, the slow arrival of Indonesian workers remains a challenge to oil palm growers who have faced a critical shortage of workers since the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Eric Kiu affirmed that SOPPOA respects the decision by the State Cabinet for not granting the request to allow Bangladeshi to work in the plantations at the moment.

“However, Dato Sri Abu Bakar was receptive to the suggestion to look into the suitability of Timorese workers as they are culturally similar to Indonesians,” the statement said.

To date, only Indonesians are allowed to work in oil palm plantations in Sarawak.

There were also many signs that the Indonesian government does not encourage its citizens to work in the country, especially with the development of Indonesia’s new capital Nusantara, which would require about one million of its workforce.

SOPPOA further mentioned that long processing times involving the application for AP, New Labor License and Calling Visa may also contribute to the delay in employing foreign workers.

“In this respect, Abu Bakar felt that such inconvenience should not arise and was confident that the processes would be streamlined very soon. For example, he opined that the approval for New Labor License ideally should be given within a day instead of seven days,” it added.

Amongst those present during the courtesy visit were Dr Moh and Department of Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring Sarawak director Jack Merudu Ko.

On June 29, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Datuk Gerawat Gala, during a courtesy call by SOPPOA, informed that his Department had recently submitted a paper to the State Cabinet to include three additional source countries for foreign workers.

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

This include reducing the time for applying for the AP quota which used to take up to two to three months is shortened to not more than one and a half months; the new labour 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.

Presently, Sarawak has 1.61 million hectares of oil palm plantations and 84 palm oil mills. Last year (2021), it produced 3.90 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO).

With favourable CPO prices, the Sarawak palm oil industry was able to generate a significant amount of tax revenues for the country through MPOB Cess (RM62.5 million), Windfall Profit Levy (RM394 million), State Sales Tax (RM1.0 billion), Export Tax (RM1.5 billion) in addition to the corporate tax (20 to 28 per cent). — DayakDaily