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Critical shortage of workers

Friday, 4 November 2016

KUCHING: Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated recently in his winding-up speech for the 2017 Budget that the freeze on foreign workers in the plantation industry resulted in losses of more than RM1 billion.

He further stated that the situation in East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah) was serious where acute shortage of workers was causing huge losses in the plantation industry.

SOPPOA (Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association) has highlighted the shortage of workers to the state government in recent meetings, stressing the importance of workers in the industry to carry out the necessary activities.

Based on current statistics of 1.4 million hectares planted in the state with oil palm, the state needs 175,000 workers based on the Labour-Land ratio of 1:8.

But data from Malaysian Palm Oil Board and the Sarawak Labour Department showed that about 108,000 workers are employed in the Sarawak plantation industry, comprising approximately 86,000 foreign workers and 22,000 locals.

The shortfall of over 67,000 workers is acute as the ramifications are huge; lack of workers resulted in loss of fruits being harvested which directly leads to loss of revenue to estates and loss of revenue to the federal and state government in terms of taxes collected.

For example, between 2010 and 2015 the palm oil industry contributed RM2.159 billion in sales taxes in Sarawak which would continue to grow as the industry is expanding here.

It is therefore an urgent matter for the state government to address this issue of shortage of workers in the plantation industry in the state as workers, be they locals or foreign are critical for the success of the industry in the long term.

To expedite the hiring of workers, SOPPOA requests that the process should be more streamlined among the relevant government agencies. Such a move will enable companies to get their workers quickly to prevent any backlog in fieldwork such as costly delay in harvesting rounds.

In view of the current critical shortage, SOPPOA also requests for the state government to consider opening the hiring of foreign workers to other nationalities as a measure to meet the current shortage.

On the matter of illegal foreign workers, the government could also consider providing an amnesty period for companies to register these workers and provide them the necessary documents to work in the state legally. Such a move would help to overcome the lack of workers and reduce the number of illegal workers.

The palm oil industry in Sarawak is expanding in line with the government’s target growth of 8% per annum to achieve two million hectares planted by 2020.

Presently, the palm oil industry in the state contributes an estimated RM3.9 billion to the state’s GDP (2014) and makes up 10.95% or RM9 billion of the state’s total export, valued at RM82.2 billion in 2014.

It is an engine of growth for the state and will continue to generate revenue, jobs and opportunities for people.

Taken from New Sarawak Tribune