Govt preparing to import 32,000 workers for palm oil sector

The employer will bear the cost to provide vaccination for the incoming workers, minister says

by ARIF AIMAN / pic by TMR FILE

THE government is preparing to import 32,000 workers to bolster the palm oil sector as a labour crunch looms, threatening output of one of Malaysia’s top foreign-exchange earners.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamarudin said the government is preparing special procedures to ensure the process is quick and safe.

She said the government will set strict procedures and conditions for the intake that planters must comply with.

Zuraida said one of the conditions for bringing in foreign workers is that every single one must be fully vaccinated before entering the country.

“The employer will bear the cost to provide vaccination for the incoming workers,” she said.

Employers will source workers from Indonesia first to fast-track the intake, to be followed by workers from other nations, she said in a statement yesterday.

Zuraida added that other details regarding the quarantine centres and the mechanism to bring in the foreign workers will be released by the Ministry of Human Resources (MoHR).

“Any changes in the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are based on the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities’ discussion with the MoHR, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health.”

Previously, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had said that the Special Committee on Pandemic Management had approved SOPs for bringing in foreign workers.

Malaysia’s palm oil production is at its weakest in five years as planters are struggling with the worst ever labour shortage with low yields likely to last through March.

Bloomberg quoted Malaysian Palm Oil Association CEO Datuk Mohamad Nageeb Wahab as saying that the palm oil industry was already facing labour shortages, particularly harvesters, even before the pandemic.

“The shortage is becoming worse month by month. This is a historic crunch of workers and it’s causing a multi-year shortfall in production.”

“Yields will taper down toward the year-end and will likely remain weak in the first quarter of 2022 (1Q22),” Nageeb was quoted.

He said production may improve in 2Q22, but on condition that harvesters, including the 32,000 foreign workers the government had approved, are allowed to enter the country.