KUCHING: The Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) has appealed to the authorities concerned to immediately find ways to get Indonesian workers in light of the extension of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO).
In a statement yesterday, Soppoa stressed the survival of the plantation industry is at stake and the authorities must provide immediate assistance to relieve the sufferings of planters.
“Soppoa is ready to take up a supporting role with the state government in getting these workers in safely amidst the Covid-19 pandemic through properly planned movement of foreign workers legally, safely, and in full compliance of Covid-19 prevention standard operating procedures (SOP) as required by the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC),” the association said.
Soppoa pointed out that plantations in Sarawak were already suffering from worker shortages even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It said this became a major crisis with the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) when no new Indonesian workers were allowed into the country while those whose employment contracts expired had left the country.
Soppoa said it welcomed the Malaysian Palm Oil Board’s (MPOB) move to recruit more local youths to work in plantations.
MPOB chairman Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub recently stated that with the incentivised package from the government, youths would hopefully take up the challenge to fill the 3Ds (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) plantation job vacancies.
However, Soppoa said although plantations in Sarawak consistently employ many locals, especially youths working as mill technicians, operators, field supervisors, mechanics, office clericals, research and development, laboratories, drivers, and security personnel, local youths rarely venture into the 3D nature of harvesting and upkeep jobs, which is the bulk of the labour requirement in the plantation upstream operation.
“The acute shortage (of manpower) situation in plantations is getting worse and unbearable with substantial amount of crop unharvested, subsequently rotted, and wasted.
“Field conditions are getting bad and replanting of older palms are delayed due to not enough hands,” said Soppoa.
For succession planning, the association said the plantation industry had provided training academies for school leavers and on-the-job training for others with perks, in which the job uptake trend was deemed relatively slow.
“It is a fact that Sarawak has a smaller scattered local population and larger land area than the peninsula counterpart. The local workforce, although relatively small, is also shared and competes with the more lucrative jobs in the various construction, manufacturing, oil and gas sectors.
“Other available youths numbered in tens of thousands have ventured to more developed countries to seek better prospects and livelihoods in the bright city lights.
“Without the intake of foreign workers at this critical stage will eventually cause the downfall of the second most important economy for Malaysia in terms of revenue and job opportunities to tens of thousands of farmers and value chain users who depend on this industry as their livelihood,” added the association.