KUCHING: The Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) fully supports bringing in Cambodians to overcome the labour shortage in the state’s plantation sector.
In a statement, Soppoa said the oil palm industry was in dire need of at least 30,000 workers, mainly as harvesters and general workers.
The association said the move was timely to open up the plantation sector to workers of other nationalities.
“The oil palm industry recognises the contributions of Indonesian workers, who have been the only source of labourers for more than 40 years.
“As more of them now prefer to work in their own country, the number of Indonesian workers coming in has greatly reduced.
“However, we will continue working closely with our Indonesian counterparts on the labour issue, as their contributions remain important to support industry growth in the state,” it said.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem, when officiating a forum on opportunities and challenges in the palm oil industry in Serian, said his ministry was looking into bringing workers from Cambodia to overcome the labour shortage in the plantation sector in Sarawak.
Riot said the industry was facing a difficult time sourcing labour from Indonesia, as the country was also expanding its oil palm industry. He added that plantation operators in Indonesia were paying wages on par with the salaries offered in Malaysia.
He said the lack of harvesters could result in losses of uncollected fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) worth up to RM2bil a year.
Riot is planning to visit Cambodia in the middle of the month to discuss the matter. The meeting would also touch on the possibility of sourcing Cambodians as housemaids.
Riot said the state needed about 200,000 workers in the oil palm industry, while the current number of foreign workers in the sector was about 163,000.
Soppoa said it was pleased that the Ministry was trying to find ways to bring Cambodians and other nationalities to work here.
“On our part, we will continue the industry’s pursuit of mechanisation as a means to reduce dependency on workers, but this will mainly be in the area of evacuation of FFBs.
“Based on our experience in the palm oil industry, Indonesian workers are still the best to carry out the physically demanding field work, especially FFB harvesting and evacuation.”
In the past, the association had appealed to the state government to open up the palm oil sector in Sarawak to other nationalities. Shortage of harvesters and general workers affected both large estates and smallholders, it said.
“Due to the shortage of workers in the industry here, about RM2bil a year will go to waste in Sarawak and this will only continue to rise as the industry continues to grow in the coming years.
“Soppoa looks forward to see positive development in the Ministry’s efforts to address worker shortages in the palm oil industry in Sarawak,” the association said.