Sabah, Sarawak planters need more foreign workers

This newsreport by Berita Nasional Malaysia (Bernama) appeared in Business Times pullout today.

OIL PALM planters in Sabah and Sarawak may soon recruit workers from China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. "This is our effort to ensure sufficient workers in addition to those from Indonesia," the East Malaysia Planters' Association (EMPA) chairman Othman Walat told reporters in Sibu, Sarawak last night.

He said, although the Chinese workers were an untested group, historically they had been employed in the country's tin mining industry in the early 1900s. Filipino workers, including graduates, are already employed in many Sabah mills. Estates in Sabah and Sarawak now account for 40 per cent of total oil palm plantations in the country.


Meanwhile, figures from the Statistics Department revealed that last year, the oil palm industry employed 369,290 foreign and 196,480 locals workers. In 2007, there were 186,110 locals and 348,272 foreigners.

Othman said most locals shunned jobs in the industry because of perceived low pay. "But plantations these days are offering productivity-based renumerations. A harvestor, for instance, can earn between RM1,500 and RM2,000 per month, depending on the quantity and quality of bunches he harvests. A family of three working together can earn up to RM3,000," he explained.

He also said Sarawak would be the new growth area for oil palms although at a slower pace as suitable land in Sabah is dwindling. He highlighted that as of the end of 2008, Sabah had about 1.3 million hectares under oil palm while Sarawak's planted area measured 744,372ha.

On the recent attempt by certain environmental activists to stop the planting of oil palms on peat soil in the two states, Othman said this was motivated by economic factors rather than genuine concern for the environment.

"Have those people concerned done enough studies to come to the conclusion that planting oil palms on peat area is really harmful to the environment due to the gas emission problem? This problem is also caused by the cattle rearing in developed countries. Should cattle rearing be stopped, too?" he asked.

On another issue, he hoped Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would consider lowering various palm oil taxes when presenting Budget 2010 this Friday.

Othman called on more planters, especially the smallholders in the state, to join the association to form a stronger voice. EMPA now has 104 members, of which 92 are from Sabah and the rest in Sarawak. - Bernama

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