The oil palm industry is suffering an acute labour shortage and production numbers have fallen as a result.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has welcomed the move to regularise undocumented migrant workers, saying it will help solve the sector’s persistent labour shortage.

“If they go through the proper channels and are legalised and utilised to work for the industry, I think it’s a good move,” MPOB director-general Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir told FMT. “It will help the industry as it is in dire need of workers.”

“If we know their number we can monitor them. Since they are already here, we can train them straight away and get them to work.

“I think it will also help the government increase its revenue because we can harvest to the maximum if we have extra hands.”

Ahmad said the industry was short of about 40,000 workers and production numbers had fallen as a result.

MPOB previously said the country’s palm oil stockpile fell 8.6% month-on-month to 1.57 million tonnes in October, the lowest since June 2017. October’s production also contracted 7.8% month-on-month to 1.72 million tonnes, the lowest since May.

In July, Malaysian Palm Oil Association CEO Mohamad Nageeb Wahab said the industry had lost up to 25% of its potential palm oil yield because of labour shortage.

He warned that losses would increase if the government’s freeze on foreign labour recruitment was not lifted, adding that the country was already short of about 36,000 workers before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The home ministry yesterday announced it would run the Illegal Immigrant Recalibration Plan from Nov 16 to June 30 next year.

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National Union of Plantation Workers executive secretary A Navamukundan, however, warned that it would not be easy to absorb the newly normalised workers into the plantation sector.

He said the cutting of fruit, for example, was not something everyone could do. “There is a lot of skill and experience involved,” he told FMT.

Referring to liaisons between employer, employee and third party vendors, he said the government must first make sure that “triangular employment relationships” are brought to an end.

“That is where violations of human rights and infringements of labour rights are taking place, and we are being bashed internationally for it,” he said.

When announcing the regularisation plan, Home Affairs minister Hamzah Zainudin promised that it would be implemented by the Immigration Department and the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia and other government agencies without the involvement of third parties and vendors.

Hamzah said the government was expected to earn about RM95 million from compounds and other charges imposed on the migrants and employers, a figure which the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) questioned.

“MTUC wishes to have a discussion to know how the government arrived at the RM95 million sum,” its deputy president, Mohd Effendy Abdul Ghani, told FMT.

“We also want to know if the cost of legalising undocumented migrant workers will be kept to the minimum to attract them and not to frighten them off.

“We request that the government strengthen internal mechanisms to curb corrupt practices.”

Effendy alleged that Malaysia had a track record of coming up with too many ad hoc policies and that most had served migrant workers badly.

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He said several of the programmes had fallen flat due to “serious weaknesses” in their implementation.

“We do not wish to see another programme through which certain quarters make huge amounts of money at the expense of migrant workers,” he added.



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