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IT was a rude awakening for local planters this week, when Indonesia again displayed its inconsistent policy by freezing the recruitment of its workers for Malaysia.
Hopes were dashed for the arrival of the first batch of 32,000 Indonesian workforce meant for the sector here.
For decades, Indonesia has been the mecca for many Malaysian plantation companies as a reliable source for migrant estate workers.
However, this is no longer the case, especially when Indonesia took over the status of the world’s largest producer of palm oil from Malaysia with many Indonesians opted to stay home and work in the oil palm estates there.
Ironically, some of the big oil palm plantations in the republic are also owned by several high-profile Malaysian planters.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the shortage situation in the local plantation scene has escalated further to 120,000 workers currently from about 60,000 workers during the pre-pandemic period.
Of the 2.06 million legally-registered foreign workers in Malaysia, the labour-intensive plantation sector hired about 268,203 or about 15.9%, alongside with other sectors such as construction, manufacturing, agricultural and domestic maids.,
With Indonesia’s latest temporary freeze on its workers for Malaysia, the best bet would be for local planters to seek elsewhere, perhaps from India and Pakistan as suggested by the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin.
Another alternative is to bump up on the mechanisation and automation in the oil palm estates – an idea which often looks good on paper but still has yet to take off on a successful route.
Another suggestion is for the government to provide a higher matching grant from the current RM30mil for investment in the mechanisation and automation in the estate operations. This perhaps could further encourage planters to take on the automation programme on a more serious note.
Apparently, the freeze of Indonesian workers to Malaysia also coincides with the upcoming palm oil peak production months.
The Malaysian Estate Owners Association reveals that any potential delay in harvesting the fresh fruit bunches may result in its members suffering 5% to 10% losses in earnings due to the current severe labour crunch.
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