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Soppoa fumes over raids on foreign workers in estates

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

KUCHING: Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) is not happy with raids conducted by Immigration Department on foreign workers in oil palm plantations.

Its chief executive officer Dr Felix Moh Mee Ho said the raids were conducted in Miri and Bintulu in January and February.

“In the recent incidents in Bintulu and Miri regions, the Immigration Department deployed sophisticated drone equipment to carry out aerial surveillance on the locations of foreign workers’ quarters in the targeted plantations prior to raiding.

“Many foreign workers who live and work peacefully in the plantations were caught off guard.

“Like all the industries, oil palm plantation sector does not go against the government policy in controlling migrant workers and minimising illegals to the lowest possible means. But the government has to take into consideration that the increase in numbers of illegals in the country was a result of force of the nature by Covid-i9 as well as weakness in policy implementation,” he said in a statement.

He pointed out the implementation of movement control order (MC0) since March 2020 restricted the mobility of every individual in the country.

“Further closure of international borders not only prohibited the arrival of new migrant workers to seek employment in Malaysia, it also their home country. As a result, many foreign workers were stranded at their workplaces,” he added.

He said for the last two years, many front desk governmental services including Immigration Department were practically halted as all the staff were instructed to work from home.

He claimed that since the departmental offices were non that is supposed to facilitate the submission of work permit related documents was also shut down completely.

“Strictly speaking, no formal transaction was possible to be carried out during that period. In other words, many foreign workers whose work permits were expiring during the MCO were unable to be renewed.

“As a result, these workers were automatically classified as illegal as they do not possess valid work permit. There were thousands of valid workers who became victims of circumstances just because they could not be renewed as the Immigration Department was not in operation.

“Unavoidably, the numbers of illegal or undocumented migrant workers in our country during that period increased dramatically,” he said.

On the Recalibration Programme by Immigration Department, he said it was supposedly to assist employers in selected sectors such as construction, manufacturing, plantation, agriculture and services to legally employ undocumented foreign workers.

“Instead of hoping to be rehired, thousands of illegal workers ended up to be deported or arrested for not having sufficient documents to support their legalisation processes,” he added.

He cited news report which stated the Recalibration Programme has sent home 192,281 undocumented migrants, in an operation which was conducted from December 202O until December 2021.

The three countries with the highest numbers were Indonesia India (23,844).

“These numbers obviously were sufficient to solve the labour crunch that industries were demanding for and helped generate billions of ringgit in revenue last two years instead of going down the drain,” he said.

He also said as of January this year, Immigration Department reportedly managed to bag RM100 million in compounds from this programme and further RM200 million collected from deposit payments from employers who had participated in this recalibration programme.

According to him, the government departments should not feel proud when they collect huge proceeds from compounding, penalty or summons as their main role should be to improve businesses’ operations and livelihoods and not flexing their enforcement powers at these trying times.

“Soppoa has no bad intention to raise all these dissatisfaction but merely wants to express the predicaments faced by the general public and business communities,” he said.

Hoping for a favourable reply from the Prime Minister, he said the general public and business communities deserve a better policy and not those that rub salt into their wounds.

“Of late, there are indications that our country is heading toward recovery mode.

“While that’s a good news the main issue is whether that is really perceived and experienced by the general public and business communities who have suffered so much that an immediate recovery may not bring any improvement.