KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Estate Owner Association (MEOA) has urged the government to exempt the plantation industry from the freeze of hiring new foreign workers, as well as to allow foreign workers to return from their home leave.
In a statement on Wednesday (July 1), the association said workers’ shortage will delay all plantation operations, paving the way for the sector to become a sunset industry.
“The plantation industry relies almost exclusively on foreign workers for field work especially harvesting of oil palm fruit bunches.
“The implementation of the movement control order (MCO) worsened the shortage as the closure of borders prevented workers from returning after their home leave, and prevented new replacement workers from coming in.
“The losses are huge and potentially can increase, considering there are nearly six million hectares under oil palm cultivation with 39% comprising smallholders (256,000 independent smallholders).
Other plantation commodities like rubber and cocoa are similarly affected.
“The association is appealing that grower companies which have tried to recruit locals but are still unable to fill vacancies, be allowed to recruit foreign workers immediately, ” MEOA added.
In addition, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the existing foreign workers still in the country should be allowed to have their work permits renewed and extended accordingly.
“The plantation industry is ready to abide with the Health’s Ministry regulations and standard operating procedure (SOP), including Covid-19 tests and quarantine, ” the association added.
MEOA said that a recent report stated that worker shortage would see oil palm growers losing an estimated 25% of their annual production, translating to a loss of RM12bil per annum.
The industry relies heavily on foreign workers, especially from Indonesia and Bangladesh.
In a separate statement today, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said the Sabah government has allowed the entry of foreign workers from China.
However, they were required to undergo Covid-19 tests from their home country for three days before entering the state, and they needed to be declared free from the virus.
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