KUCHING: The Malaysian Human Resource Minister stance that no new intake of foreign workers to all sectors in Malaysia until end of the year is a major concern to the palm oil industry in Sarawak which is critically short of labor.
“Such a blanket move to freeze intake of foreign workers is a detrimental blow to the already critical shortage of labor in the palm oil industry in Sarawak,” stated a spokesperson of the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) on the Minister’s announcement. “While we value the Minister’s stance that the freeze will give locals opportunities to take up some of these jobs, it should be noted that despite numerous initiatives to employ locals in the 3-d jobs in palm oil industry including job advertisements and others, these still failed in Sarawak. As such, SOPPOA hope that the Ministry will consider the plight of the survival of the palm oil industry in Sarawak and allow for companies here which have tried to recruit locals but still unable to fill vacancies to be allowed to recruit foreign workers to immediately plug the gap of acute shortage of 20-35% of workers. In view of the current Covid-19 checks, the palm oil industry in Sarawak is ever ready to follow the Ministry of Health regulations and Standard Operating Procedures, including quarantine, Covid-19 tests for the intakes of foreign workers to meet the current shortage of workers in the industry in Sarawak.”
According to SOPPOA spokesperson, Sarawak’s small populace of workers is a major factor for the shortage of workers in the palm oil industry here and with the emergence of new industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, timber and construction, locals tend to shy away from the 3-d jobs in palm oil industry as also seen in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah where majority of works in palm oil industry are foreign workers. Moreover, the palm oil industry in Sarawak has to also compete with better established companies of other sectors in peninsular Malaysia and Sabah for foreign workers which further raise the cost of hiring foreign workers in Sarawak. During the recent Movement Control Order in March 2020 until today, the freeze on foreign workers recruitment has further adversely impacted the palm oil industry here with the departures of many foreign workers being expatriated after their contracts expired. It is also noted that the palm oil industry in Sarawak is the second highest contributor of income revenue for the state government and also the federal government through taxes and one of the top employers in the state for providing jobs to professionals in accountancy, law, biology, engineering and chemistry among others.
“We appeal to the Human Resource Ministry to seriously consider the special circumstances in Sarawak on the ‘untimely’ freeze of foreign workers intake and to allow palm oil industry in Sarawak to continue hiring foreign workers during the duration of the year in view of the serious shortage faced by the industry here. A major concern is that the peak season for harvesting is due in a few months from now and the palm oil industry is crucially dependent on such harvests to meet increasing cost of production and other capital expenses incurred in the setting up of estates, mills and refineries which also provide jobs opportunities for locals in various categories of skilled and semi-skilled professions.