OIL PALM planters in Sarawak want to be included in the formulation of government policies that are affecting their future livelihoods.
"The future growth of the oil palm industry is in Sarawak," said Soppoa vice-president Paul Wong.
Last year, Sarawak overtook Johor to be the second biggest oil palm state in the country after Sabah when it produced two million tonnes of crude palm oil.
A case in point that Sarawak's pecularity has not been given due attention is the Performance Management & Delivery Unit's 10-year economic transformation programme having no mention of infrastruture investment in roads and bridges from estates to mills and refineries, more funding for peat agriculture research or ways to facilitate development of native customary land.
"If we were board members at MPOB or MPOC, we would have had our say in the formulation of government programmes affecting Sarawak's oil palm industry," Wong told Business Times in an interview in Kuching.
"One of the pressing problems we face is uncollected fresh fruit bunches rotting in the fields due to labour shortage. We face shortage of around 25 per cent, or 25,000 of plantation workers," Wong said. Soppoa estimates that as much as 2.5 million tonnes of fruit bunches, or 500,000 tonnes of oil, are left to waste across Sarawak's 800,000ha of oil palm plantations.
At a conservative pricing of RM2,000 per tonne, it translates into RM1 billion loss in export opportunity and millions of ringgit in tax loss to the federal and state governments.
Soppoa has appealed to the goverment to relax the rules on hiring foreign labour.
"Instead of facilitating practical solutions to address the shortage of workers, we were told that the government plans to impose a higher levy on unskilled foreign workers. Oil palm operations are labour-intensive and this cannot be avoided. However, we believe that improvement can be made overtime on the productivity," Wong said.
Five months ago, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein reportedly said the government is planning to reduce foreign workers from 1.8 million to 1.5 million in three years.
Malaysia has about 1.8 million foreign workers in manufacturing (39 per cent), construction (19 per cent), oil palm, rubber, timber and cocoa plantations (14 per cent), housemaids (12 per cent), services (10 per cent) and the rest in agriculture. The contributing countries are Indonesia (50.9 per cent), Bangladesh (17.4 per cent), Nepal (9.7 per cent), Myanmar (7.8 per cent), India (6.3 per cent), and the rest from Vietnam.