Friday January 11, 2013
Oil palm plantations now allowed to recruit Bangladeshis and Myanmarese
By JACK WONG
KUCHING: Sarawak has expanded the recruitment of migrant workers to nationalities other than Indonesians to alleviate the acute labour shortage particularly in the plantation sector.
State Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing said plantation companies were now allowed to recruit workers from Bangladesh and Myanmar on a government-to-government (G-to-G) mechanism.
“My ministry is working with the state government in the recruitment of workers from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“Plantation companies have to submit their applications on their foreign manpower needs to my ministry. The recruitment can be done any time now,” he told The Star yesterday.
Citing an example, Masing said if Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra), a government agency, needed to recruit 1,000 workers from Bangladesh or Myanmar, it must make a request to his ministry.
“We will make sure that the requirement is right (before approving the recruitment)”, he said.
Masing said Salcra, which is under the charge of his ministry, was actually short of more than 1,000 plantation workers.
The state authorities now assess the labour requirement of oil palm companies based on one worker for every seven hectares. That is the quota used in approving the maximum number of foreign workers that the companies can bring in.
On the levy for the recruitment of Bangladeshis and Myanmarese, he said it had not been worked out.
Malaysia and Bangladesh recently sealed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on G-to-G mechanism in the hiring of Bangladesh workers.
Masing said the adoption of the G-to-G mechanism in hiring foreign workers was to check any abuse.
The liberalisation of the Sarawak labour market, which was discussed by the state cabinet recently, is also for other sectors, like timber and construction.
Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners’ Association (Soppoa) and Sarawak Timber Association (STA) had requested the state authorities about two years ago to allow their member companies to recruit foreign workers other than Indonesians to address the labour shortage.
According to Soppoa, the state plantation sector is short of at least 20% in labour requirement and that the situation could worsen due to the fast expansion of the planted oil palm areas.
It had informed the state authorities that it had become more difficult and costly to employ Indonesian workers due to the big expansion of oil palm areas in the republic in recent years that had created new jobs for the locals, thus reducing the number of Indonesians coming to work in Sarawak.
Based on statistics, at least 80% of the plantation workers in Sarawak are Indonesians, mostly employed as fruit harvesters and estate maintenance workers.
It was reported that because of the labour shortage, between 10% and 15% of fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) in plantations were left to rot as they could not be harvested on time, resulting in revenue loss estimated at RM1bil a year.
Masing said oil palm plantations in the state had expanded to some 1.2 million hectares.
Asked if the state authorities would allow employers to bring in workers from countries other than Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar, he said the government had to check if these workers were suitable.
Starting this month, all employers in Sarawak, including the plantation and timber sectors, are required to pay their workers a minimum wage of RM800 a month.