PM: Make plantation sector more attractive

This is written by my colleague Rozanna Latiff.

KUALA SELANGOR: PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday called for a restructuring of the plantation sector to make it more effective, competitive and attractive to local workers.

Najib said out of some 450,000 estate workers in the country, only 83,000 or 40 per cent were Malaysians, while in Selangor, less than 4,000 out of 11,000 workers were local. "Some of the reasons that locals have shied away from working include low renumeration, poverty and widespread social problems.

"I find it unacceptable that estate workers have remained in the same situation for so many years while others prosper," he said when launching Sime Darby Bhd's Tennamaram Estate Central Housing Complex (CHC) here yesterday.

He said other companies in the sector should follow in the footsteps of Sime Darby, which saw its productivity levels increase by 10.7 per cent after raising wages for its estate workers by RM200 per month last July.

"The palm oil sector has a large impact on Malaysia's economy. With improved productivity, raising wages can be a win-win situation not only for the workers and their employers but the country as well."

Najib said the Tennamaram Estate CHC - a centralised community comprising residences, offices, public amenities and recreational facilities for some 300 workers - was a "game-changer" for the estate sector.

"While we believe in capitalism and a free economy, our philosophy has always been to practise capitalism with a heart or capitalism based on acting in the interest of the people. With upgraded housing and recreational facilities, we have been able to put into practice this philosophy in order to improve community lives in the estate."

The prime minister also announced a RM2.6 million allocation to supply clean water to the Mary and Sungai Tinggi estates.

Sime to spend RM2b on workers' housing

Sime Darby Bhd plans to spend RM2 billion in the next 10 years to upgrade its workers' housing at its oil palm estates to that of mini-townships. This is an initiative based on a better community living model comprising residences, offices, public amenities and recreational facilities clustered in one location.

By enhancing living standards of its employees at the estates, the group hopes to attract and retain more local talent. Currently, Sime Darby employs 37,000 workers at its plantations in Malaysia, of whom only 40 per cent are locals. "This Central Housing Complex is a place you could call home and not just a company's house," said chairman Tun Musa Hitam.

He was speaking to reporters here yesterday after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak officiated at the upgrading of staff housing amenities at the Tennamaram Estate. The location is historic because Tennamaram Estate is Malaysia's first commercial oil palm estate dating back to 1917.

So far, Sime Darby spent RM37 million at this estate so that managers, executives and staff get to live in three-bedroom and two-bathroom quarters equipped with broadcast satellite television Astro. There are now more sports and recreational facilities for the enjoyment of its 300-odd staff there.

Following the successful rollout of this Tennamaram Estate pilot project, the group will now seek to upgrade more workers' quarters at another three estates this year. They are Simpang Renggam Estate in Johor, Sg Dingin Estate in Kedah and Sentosa Estate in Sabah.

As an integrated global company, Sime Darby also has refineries, specialty fats and oleochemical plants spread out in several countries to produce ingredients to make cooking oil, margarine, fruit juices and detergent.

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