KUCHING: The row between oil palm estate owners in Sarawak, workers union and government ministers over plans to employ more foreign workers is showing no sign of abating.
The state branch of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has fired the latest salvo, telling the private sector to be more transparent on its hiring process for locals.
In a statement yesterday, the umbrella union’s Sarawak secretary, Andrew Lo, alleged members of the powerful Sarawak Oil Palm Plantations Owners Association (SOPPOA) were not doing enough to inform locals of vacancies before recruiting foreigners.
Lo said job advertisements should include terms of employment, including monthly wages, and that estate owners must do away with the practise of paying daily salaries.
“As 12,000 Bangladeshi workers are already being brought into Sarawak for a minimum of two years, we would also expect locals to be offered at least a two-year contract. Our workers should not be daily rated and only called to work when there is harvest,” Lo said in the statement.
He added that SOPPOA’s claim that locals did not want to work in the industry was untrue.
Locals “are more than prepared” to work at estates, Lo said, and the evidence was in the many thousands of Sarawakians who had joined heavy industries, oil and gas sectors, and other “dirty and dangerous jobs as long as terms and conditions are attractive”.
Lo’s statement comes three days after SOPPOA said in a press release that it was facing an “acute labour shortage”.
The statement was issued after weeks of controversy (which has become political and played out in the state media) over plans to recruit large numbers of foreigners.
Recently, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem revealed Sarawak’s oil palm sector had requested to hire a staggering 62,000 foreign workers.
Riot said the 12,000 workers from Bangladesh was just the first batch, and that his ministry was negotiating on more deals to bring in labourers from Nepal and Myanmar.
Meanwhile, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar announced a “locals first” policy, saying plantation firms would only be allowed to hire foreigners after placing job ads in the local media for a stipulated time.
At the same time, Sarawak Land Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing had told critics to help the “locals first” recruitment drive, reacting to protest plans scheduled for the end of this month by the opposition and non-governmental bodies.
In MTUC’s statement, Lo called on the firms here to advertise widely including newspapers, radio and online, with the help of the Labour Department to keep Sarawakian job seekers informed.
Lo said the high cost of bringing in foreign workers should by right encourage the companies to hire locals.