Let foreign workers back in to save timber industry, govt urged

KOTA KINABALU: Timber industry players are appealing to the state government to allow the employment of foreign labourers in Sabah.

Sabah Timber Industries Association president Tan Peng Juan said the sector was suffering from major labour issues even before Covid-19 hit but the problems escalated during the pandemic.

He said some workers had to return home when the pandemic hit while others chose to shift to the agriculture sector.

“This has caused a heavy toll on downstream players while the complete shutdown of foreign labour (entry) has crippled the midstream and upstream sectors,” he said in a statement on Wednesday (Oct 27).

Tan said traditionally, logging, sawmilling and panel-based producers relied heavily on foreign labour.

“The government needs to allow employers access to foreign labour now,” he said.

He added that agencies like the Immigration Department have a mountain of backlogged paperwork, with the processing of annual workers' permits and approvals for new workers being at a standstill as a result of several pandemic lockdowns.

Tan said the immigration and human resource authorities needed to be in direct contact with industries so that problems with regards to employment and the like can be attended to quickly.

He also suggested proactive liaising with the Indonesian and Philippine governments and for borders to be opened on a gradual basis.

On the lack of workers in the timber industry, Tan said disorderly poaching of the workforce from the timber sector to other industries such as construction and palm oil is making the situation more critical.

“This is crippling an industry that can ill afford a wage war after it has only partially operated for almost 18 months,” he said.

“The revision of minimum wage twice in the last 10 years has not been easy for the timber sector given its long list of disadvantages when it comes to competing in the international arena,” he added.

“The timber industry appeals to the government to take right and immediate action to resolve human resource issues to... ensure survivability of the industry,” he said.

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