'Move needed for oil palm sector's growth'
Published on: Sunday, July 01, 2018
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Kota Kinabalu: The issuance of special work passes for foreign plantation workers in the State augurs well for the development of the oil palm industry, said Sawit Kinabalu Group Managing Director Datuk Othman Walat.However, Othman said the Government needs to conduct a thorough study to come up with a long-term solution.

"I think they (the State Government) are looking at it now. They are taking positive steps.

Oil palm is the biggest revenue (generator) for Sabah," he said, when met at the Sawit Kinabalu's Hari Raya celebration at the Wisma SLDB, here, Saturday.

"Sabah has one third of the total oil palm in Malaysia. So, if we lose this revenue, we are losing a lot, and it would be very difficult to manage the economy without palm oil."

He added, the foreign plantation workers issue is complex due to many policies made earlier.

"I think the government will discuss this matter with the industry players so that whatever solution they come up with, will be good for the industry, instead of making an ad hoc decision."

The oil palm industry in the State, he said, is currently on a labour-intensive condition.

"You need a lot of labour, even though Sawit Kinabalu had gone into mechanisation, in terms of harvesting, but it still require a lot of labour. And by that, we have to rely on foreign workers," he said.

He also disclosed that 75 per cent of their labour comes from foreign sources.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal has tasked the Immigration Department and a Special Committee chaired by State Secretary Tan Sri Sukarti Wakiman to come up with a detailed process on the issuance of special work passes for foreign plantation workers in the State.

Shafie was quoted as saying that the special pass is not a permanent document but to legalise the process of the foreign plantation workers' work permits.

In addition to specifying that they are plantation workers, several conditions would also be set to enable them to feel comfortable working in the plantations.

On Saturday, Keningau MP Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan accused Shafie of caring more for foreign illegals rather than genuine Sabahans.

Jeffrey was quoted as saying that any truly patriotic Sabah government and its leaders should first consider the welfare and concerns of genuine Sabahans with priority as well as to enforce law on illegals, not the other way around.

In defence, Parti Warisan Sabah deputy president Darell Leiking, on Saturday, said the proposal was meant as an immediate solution to labour problems in Sabah.

He said the shortage of labour is particularly severe in oil palm plantations and as a source of major income for Sabah, there is an urgent need to address the problem in this economic sector.

From January to May this year, some 25,569 foreign plantation workers had been registered with the State Immigration Department with Indonesians making the bulk at 24,442 workers, followed by 1,124 Filipinos and three from Myanmar.

Last year, the department registered 76,603 foreign plantation workers, comprising 72,093 Indonesians, 4,494 Filipinos and 16 from Myanmar.

Also present were Sawit Kinabalu Group's head of finance and corporate services Mary Ku and head of plantation business Masri Pudin.­ - Ricardo Unto


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