KUCHING: The palm oil industry in Sarawak is critically short of workers which will heavily impact on the financial performances of plantation companies as well as expected revenue in the form of cess, duties, taxes for the government in the upcoming months. According to the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA), the shortage is estimated at more than 45,000 since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed since March 2020 has prevented companies from getting new workers from Indonesia.
“It must be realized that the palm oil industry in Sarawak is a major contributor to the state’s income as well as the federal government in the form of taxes and other revenues earned from the industry through export of crude palm oil (CPO). With the acute shortage of workers, especially harvesters and general workers, the industry will suffer from loss of crop due to non-harvesting and subsequent decline of production of CPO which is the life line of the industry. Most worrisome for the industry is that this shortage will be prolonged as it is estimated that the restart of intake of new foreign workers will take between 6 to 9 months to recover from the big shortage experienced now,” stated a spokesperson from SOPPOA.
SOPPOA has highlighted the issue to the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities and the Sarawak State Government on numerous occasions to allow for recruitment of new workers to overcome the shortage but till today the result has not been forthcoming. The lack of action by the authorities concerned to rectify the shortage of plantation workers in the essential service sector is a concern for the industry here and the situation will only get worse by the day as more workers are leaving due to expiry of contracts, health reasons and others with no new recruits to take over. On the recent calls by the Human Resource Ministry to recruit locals to fill up the vacancies, SOPPOA fully support the initiative and will provide trainings to these local youths who want to take up the offer. All local youths interested in trying out can directly contact the association or plantation companies throughout the state as there are plentiful opportunities in the sector now. Currently, locals employed in the sector are mainly in executive and administrative positions, as well as in supervisory capacities, R&D, laboratories and machine operators and still shun away from the 3D (dirty, difficult and dangerous) field harvesting job where locals only make up less than 5% of the total harvesters.
It must also be emphasized that the Sarawak oil palm planted area has already grown to 1.7 million hectares, the largest single planted area and growth region in Malaysia. However, the local population is small and with intense competition from the more lucrative sectors available which also need foreign workers, the palm oil industry in Sarawak is continuously fighting an uphill battle. It is most urgent now for the relevant authorities to provide the necessary assistance to the palm oil industry at this critical time otherwise it could severely affect the survival of the industry and future growth of the state’s economy.