Local hands now till our land

KUALA LUMPUR: A shortage of foreign labour in the plantation sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in local workers ready to fill the role.

In fact, industry players describe the pandemic as a game changer in hiring local workers while some view the period as critical in determining the industry’s survival.

In Terengganu, Central Terengganu Development Authority (Ketengah) chairman Datuk Razali Idris said that about 25% of the foreign workers could not be employed after they were stranded in their own countries due to the pandemic, and their contracts could not be renewed.

However, realising that this would be a challenge, Ketengah immediately organised a short-term course on oil palm plantation supervision and operation (K-Polks) as a pilot programme, first implemented last year to train local youth.

“We quickly developed this transformation plan as we sought alternatives in hiring new workers for plantations and as a result of the K-Polks programme, we have managed to cover 60% of the foreign workforce,” he said.

As the new workers lacked the experience and skills needed in the plantation sector, he said Ketengah will continue to provide them with training from time to time.

“It is about time that Malaysians are given priority for employment in the plantation sector and for plantation companies to provide workers with better salaries and facilities.

“Ketengah is confident that local youth are interested to work in this sector as long as the pay is worthwhile,” he said.

TDM Plantation chief executive officer Mohd Ghozali Yahaya said the company, which owns 33,000ha of plantations nationwide, has so far employed some 2,500 workers, with 1,400 of them locals.

While admitting that TDM was also affected by the shortage of estate workers following the closure of the country’s borders last year, he said various efforts were made to overcome the problem, including turning to farm mechanisation and introducing a programme to recruit local workers, which is still ongoing.

In Selangor, state infrastructure, public facilities, agricultural modernisation and agro-based industry committee chairman Izham Hashim acknowledged the impact of foreign labour shortage in the sector but said steps taken to modernise and produce high-value products could attract local youth.

Felda Soeharto manager Mohd Qasidinoor Mohamad Asri is also of the view that the current generation is more inclined towards technology and this can be a factor in attracting their interest in venturing into any field.

“By employing technology and machinery, we may be able to attract (locals) to work in plantations to reduce our dependence on foreign labour,” he said.

In Perlis and Kedah, there are no problems of foreign labour dependency in kenaf plantations as the crop is much easier to manage.

Kenaf Venture Global (KGV) chief executive officer Jazman Shahar Abdollah said the company cultivates kenaf over a 100ha site at the Chuping Valley Industrial Area, which provides employment opportunities to locals here.

“It is not difficult to plant and cultivate kenaf. They are harvested within 100 days so we do not face problems of labour shortage, “ he said.

In Perak, the shortage of migrant workers has resulted in a decline in yield and loss in production, especially in oil palm plantations.

Perak State Farmers Organisation chairman Datuk Sham Mat Sahat said this can be seen in oil palm estates in Kerian, Beruas, Semanggol and Kuala Kangsar. — Bernama

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