Group calls for SOP review in Sabah palm oil sector

KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) wants the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the palm oil sector during the conditional movement control order (MCO) to be reviewed.

MEOA called on the state to allow plantations and mills to resume their operation without restrictions such as lower workforce quota and shorter working hours.

The SOP during conditional MCO will adversely affect the Sabah palm oil industry with an acreage of over 1.544 million hectares, involving over 220,000 employees (excluding their dependants), 132 palm oil mills, 12 palm kernel plants, and 11 refineries, they said.

“MEOA would like to appeal to the state to waive the limitation of having only 50% of workforce capacity in attendance.

“Set against the prevailing shortage of skilled workers in the plantation sector, all available workers in place should be allowed to work to better manage Covid-19,” it said.

The association said that the very nature of work in estates and mills already guarantees that the workers are well-distanced from each other, given the expanse of the work area. “The distance from one oil palm tree to the next is around 9m, more than the present mandatory distancing of one metre.

“It is safer for the workers to be out in the fields working, instead of staying at their quarters as mingling and grouping together puts them and their dependants at a higher risk.“The ratio of labour to land for oil palm plantations in Sabah is one worker to seven hectares, underscoring the case to have the full workforce working rather than staying at home,” MEOA added.

As for the processing facilities, the 12-hour limit for processing from 6am to 6pm is also insufficient.

“The perishable nature of crops will have disastrous effects on the growers, especially the numerous smallholders in Sabah,” it said, adding that what is needed is a differentiated set of mitigation measures for Sabah’s palm oil sector.

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