Oil palm growers in Sarawak want more source countries for foreign labour

Members of the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) in a courtesy call with state Deputy Minister in the Premier's Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Datuk Gerawat Gala (seated second right) in Kuching.

KUCHING: Oil palm plantations in the state want the government to allow them to hire workers from more than one country to address the labour shortage and suggested East Timor.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) chairman Eric Kiu said at present, only Indonesian workers were allowed to work in plantations in the state.

He said the state government should consider bringing in workers from East Timor, due to their similarity in culture and language with Indonesians.

“India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka should also be considered as other source countries for the sector,” he said in a statement on Thursday (June 30).

Kiu made the proposal during a courtesy call by Soppoa on state Deputy Minister in the Premier's Department (Labour, Immigration and Project Monitoring) Datuk Gerawat Gala recently.

He said the industry had suffered from production losses as a result of labour shortage since the pandemic and needs about 45,000 foreign workers to bring operations back to normal.

“However, Sarawak had yet to see foreign workers coming in for the sector since the reopening of borders in April," he said.

Kiu added that Gerawat informed the association that they had submitted a paper to the state Cabinet to include three more source countries for foreign workers.

The deputy minister also told them that the department had looked into streamlining the process of foreign worker recruitment to reduce processing time.

For example, according to Kiu, Gerawat said applications for a letter of approval in principle, which used to take two to three months to process, would now take just one and a half months.

New labour licence applications would be processed within seven days and visa applications in less than 30 days, he added.

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