Call to speed up approval of foreign workers for harvest season

THE Federal and Sabah state governments have been urged to quickly approve new applications of foreign workers to harvest fresh fruit bunches in the months ahead. This is to enable the industry to achieve the 17.6 million tonnes crude palm oil output target this year.

"It is good to be optimistic but the mechanism for labour recruitment needs to be expedited. We need lead time to recruit, mobilise and train them," IJM Plantations Bhd chief executive officer and managing director Joseph Tek Choon Yee said, when met at the the Palm and Lauric Oils Outlook Conference (POC) 2011 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Many vegetable oil traders met at the conference were keen to know if Malaysia's crude palm oil output will see a rebound from shrinking output in the last two years. In 2009, output dipped to 17.6 million tonnes from 2008's record high of 17.7 million tonnes.

Last year, it plunged further to 17 million tonnes as planters complained of acute shortage of foreign workers to harvest fresh fruit bunches, in addition to an erratic weather pattern.

Five weeks ago, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok assured planters that his officials are discussing with the Home Affairs Ministry to fast track en bloc foreign workers quota approvals. Currently, the oil palm industry hires slightly more than 200,000 foreign workers, a sharp fall from more than 300,000 five years ago.

"The honourable minister announced that there would be fast track approvals. If this does not take place as soon as possible, we'll not have the labour force to meet the peak cropping season in the second half of this year," Tek told Business Times in an interview.

Sabah is the biggest palm oil-producing state in the country, with some five million tonnes of crude palm oils per year.

Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive officer Datuk Mamat Salleh reportedly estimated that the industry will need to hire up to 50,000, or 20 per cent, more foreign workers to harvest fresh fruit bunches from the trees as more oil palms reach their prime fruit-bearing age profile.

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