More leeway needed

In a joint statement issued by eight associations, they said the sector should be allowed to operate and thereby sustain its contribution to the national economy.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian plantation industry wants the sector across its supply chain be allowed to continue to operate in compliance with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) instead of a total shutdown.

In a joint statement issued by eight associations, they said the sector should be allowed to operate and thereby sustain its contribution to the national economy.

“This would be preferable to a total shutdown of an essential pillar of the national economy, with concomitant socio-economic consequences for the industry and hundreds of thousands of smallholders, ” they added.

The signatories were Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association, the National Association of Smallholders Malaysia, the Malayan Agricultural Producers Association, the Federation of Palm Oil Millers Associations of Malaysia, the Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia, Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association and The Incorporated Society of Planters

They were responding to the Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC, ) Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali’s statement on Tuesday about the need for all employers in the agri-commodity sector to adhere strictly to the ministry’s SOPs in order to stem the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace.

They said Mohd Khairuddin’s statement was issued whilst the decision was announced by Sabah on Monday not to shut down the plantation sector, but instead implement a 30-day lockdown in the plantation sector.

In the case of a lockdown, daily plantation operations are permitted to continue amid strict compliance with the Covid-19 SOPs. This was to facilitate the mass Covid-19 screening of oil palm plantation workers in Sabah. The decision was reached following consultation by the state with the plantation sector.

They said Sabah’s decision is a good model for adoption elsewhere, balancing battling the pandemic and assuring economic sustainability.

“However, in the event the shutdown of the entire economy involving all sectors is inevitable and has to be implemented, and it also includes the plantation sector, the adoption of an authority-regulated and imposed lockdown on the plantation sector will be the best solution with operations being allowed to continue unimpeded amid the strict SOPs in place, ” they said

They pointed out to the plantation sector and its intertwined supply chain, the vast oil palm planted area, the isolated sites of plantations amid a rural landscape, and rural social-economic aspects of the industry.

They added the plantation sector is fortunate that the nature of operations assures inbuilt social distancing in the workplace, which is in the fields. Unlike the manufacturing sector where workers on production lines work in enclosed factories, workers on plantations are spread out in the field carrying out field maintenance work (manuring, spraying, weeding and harvesting).

“It is safer for the workers to be out working in the fields. Any shutdown of plantation operations will encourage workers staying at their quarters to mingle and group together over a longer period, and this could potentially place them and all with whom they interact at higher risk of becoming infected with the virus.

“There is the added risk of workers absconding from the estates to the nearest towns in search of other sources of income, compounding the possible spread of the virus, ” they said.

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