SOPPOA highlights Sarawak’s dire need for foreign labour in oil palm plantations

Moh (second left) poses for a group photo together with Malaysia Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) president Jeffery Ong (second right) and others during a recent visit to an oil palm plantation in Lundu.

KUCHING, Feb 21: Sarawak is in dire need of foreign workers in oil palm plantations and this problem is expected to worsen when more are expected to leave their workplace upon the end of their contracts.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) chief executive officer Dr Felix Moh Mee Ho said Sarawak was estimated to be short of 45,000 foreign workers in November 2021 whereby about 70 to 80 per cent of this total were required for harvesting work.

At the time, most plantation companies were operating at 50 per cent capacity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, these companies require 160,000 workers to achieve optimal operation.

Moh explained that oil palm plantations in Sarawak are highly dependent on foreign workers as the companies are unable to rely on locals to work in their plantations due to lack of interest, negative perceptions and different skill sets.

On top of that, he said, mass rural migration to urban areas or cities to take up employment opportunities in the last few decades also contributed to the shortage of labour which eventually has led to the industry’s current dependency on foreign workers which makes up of about 80 per cent of the total workforce in Sarawak oil palm plantations.

Additionally, while other states are opened to receiving workers of different nationalities, only migrant workers from Indonesia are allowed to work in Sarawak’s agricultural sector.

Moh also highlighted that the recruitment process for foreign workers is tedious due to the involvement of multiple ministries.

“For example, (the time required) from submitting an application for recruiting foreign workers to approval will take not less than six to eight months. This has resulted in a serious backlog of applications to fill up overdue vacancies,” he said in a statement on Feb 19.

Malaysia’s crude palm oil price hit RM5,000 a tonne in October 2021 and a record high of RM6,000 on Feb 17, 2022.

“Unfortunately, the local palm oil companies cannot enjoy the full benefit of the pricing as 20 to 30 per cent of present palm fruits are left unharvested and rotten due to not enough harvesters.

“The losses incurred by the companies also means a loss of opportunity to the government to generate more revenue through collection of corporate tax,” Moh asserted. — DayakDaily