Economy SOS

Kickstarting the economy: As Malaysia opens up and work from home comes to an end, many busy urbanites need domestic workers’ help around the house as well as to care for their kids or elderly parents. —

TIMES are dire, but the good news is the price of crude palm oil has at least gone up, offering a ray of hope for economic recovery. It’s at a 13-year high, and while there are reports claiming sustaining it would be difficult, the point is that there are reasons to rejoice because it has finally climbed.

The price of brent crude oil is also expected to rise throughout April, according to forecasts.

We know how important these two sectors are to Malaysia, but we need to address some serious concerns.

Palm oil plantations are struggling with the shortage of foreign labour with no one to harvest the fruits.

We must let foreign workers return if Malaysia wants to retain its position as a global palm oil producer.

The Sarawak government has allowed foreign labour back into the state since March 1, but that isn’t so elsewhere.

The directive from the Sarawak government is simple – employers are responsible for adhering to the mandatory two-week quarantine for their workers, and the administration of Covid-19 tests.

We can imagine the frustrations of planters, unable to fully exploit the current high CPO price because they can’t optimise production in their estates.

According to a report, a pre-MCO survey by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) indicated a shortage of 31,021 harvesters among respondents, which covered 76% of the industry.

Based on a conservative productivity estimate per harvester of 1.5 tonnes fresh fruit bunch (FFB) a day, and 280 working days a year, crop loss amounts to almost 20% in yield.“This in turn translates to a loss in production of 3.429 million tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) and 857,000 tonnes of palm kernel (PK) a year. Assuming CPO and PK prices of RM3,000 and RM1,800 per tonne respectively, the opportunity loss amounts to an estimated RM11.83bil of revenue a year. Income tax revenue loss to the government is estimated at RM896 million a year, ” according to a joint press statement issued recently by 12 associations representing the interests of the Malaysian palm oil supply chain.

The plantation sector has a good argument because its workers operate in a rural set-up amidst an expansive landscape, so the nature of their work assures built-in social distancing.

This is unlike crowded factories in urban areas.

Obviously, we need maids again. As Malaysia opens up and work from home comes to an end, most of us will return to our workplace and invariably leave our home affairs in the lurch.

The process and preparations need to begin now so that we can conduct Covid-19 tests on these foreign domestic workers as a prerequisite for their return to Malaysia.

Most working couples are now relying on cleaners rather than stay-home maids to clean their homes, and busy urbanites also need help for caring for their kids or elderly parents.

The re-start has to begin now, since movement restrictions are being eased and more businesses are resuming.

For starters, the Immigration Department and Health Ministry must consolidate the standard operating procedures to enable maids to return.

Obviously, employers struggling with the problem are just as concerned with the health status of their maids.

Certainly, these domestic workers coming from their countries need to undergo a minimum seven-day quarantine at a designated hotel, which is paid for either by the recruitment agencies or the employers.

Each maid will surely need to take a Covid-19 test at their respective country before flying here, and if need be, go through another round of tests before completing quarantine.

Restaurants which have resumed business are now looking for staff, too.

Malaysia needs to start welcoming these guest workers. It’s bad enough that our country isn’t their preferred working destination since we don’t offer the most attractive wages, and our ringgit isn’t the most sought after either.

Let’s be frank. You only need to ask domestic workers what’s on their mind.

Still, Malaysia offers much work opportunity in kickstarting its economy. So, we could do with the help of our guest workers. In fact, we’re desperate.

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Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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