VDR deadline extension insufficient, say bosses

PETALING JAYA: Despite a three-week extension for Visa with Reference (VDR) applications for employers to use up existing quotas, stakeholders say a fresh quota is needed to address the shortage of workers.

Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive officer Joseph Tek Choon Yee said the plantation industry needs about 40,000 foreign workers.

“Almost all players in the plantation industry have fully utilised their quota and applied for a Calling Visa, and the deadline to bring them in is May 31.

“We are facing zero quota availability issues and need urgent replenishment. Thus, the additional time to apply for VDR is not applicable to us. The key issue is the dire requirement of new quotas to bring in new workers to replace those who have left,” he said when contacted.

Tek said the plantation sector hopes new quotas would be issued due to current palm oil prices that are favourable, and to address losses in the fields and prepare for a high-crop season.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council chairman Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen said the extension of the VDR deadline is helpful, but the Hari Raya celebrations must also be taken into account.

“This comes amid the Raya celebrations, therefore it may turn out to be less helpful as many Malaysians will be on extended leave. The plantation sector is still short of guest workers, who remain a crucial factor in minimising field losses and pushing up the national yield.

“It would be a fantastic gesture if the deadline could be extended to the end of April, enabling everyone to secure their needs,” he added.

Recently, the Home Ministry extended the deadline for the VDR approval letters to April 21 from March 31.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said the manufacturing industry is sceptical whether the three-week extension would be sufficient to clear the 132,000 active quotas.

Soh said the process, particularly at the source country, needs about two and a half months on average and would be complicated by the sudden and immediate spike in applications by employers rushing for the tight deadline set by the government.

“Employers are facing increased pressure to ensure ethical and fair recruitment practices are in place. In addition, adequate due diligence must be implemented along the entire recruitment process to ensure that human rights are protected and that businesses are able to increase their credibility in the world of global trade,” he said.

Soh said the industry felt that a longer timeline to settle VDR applications is needed to allow genuine employers with an active quota balance to get their VDR promptly and get workers in to support their business operations and economic growth.

“There is also continued concern over the May 31 deadline to bring in workers in the formal sector.

“Industries are currently in a dilemma to accept new orders and there’s fear of losing orders to competitors or other manufacturing locations within their group global manufacturing hubs, which could impact the viability of maintaining a manufacturing hub in Malaysia,” he added.

Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Nivas Ragavan said the bottleneck that resulted from the glitches to the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System system had further disrupted the VDR application process.

Apart from that, he said, the April deadline, although welcome, will cause companies to recalibrate their business planning for the next one and a half years.This is because they will have to rush to use up the quota despite having planned on when to bring in workers based on their manpower needs, Nivas added.

“Ideally, an 18-month deadline should be given for the VDR approval from the time the employers paid their levies, based on what is written in the approval letter,” he said.

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