KUALA LUMPUR (June 30): Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran has clarified today that a statement he made in Cameron Highlands yesterday that Malaysia may take in workers from Africa to fill the manpower gaps in its plantation sector has been taken out of context.
He said the issue arose when farmers in Cameron Highlands met him and complained they were in dire need of foreign workers, and so he had shared a suggestion that was brought up to him during a recent meeting with plantation owners, who are facing a similar problem.
He said during the meeting with the plantation owners, he was told that workers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam were no longer keen on working in oil palm estates, preferring instead the sometimes dangerous, difficult and dirty occupations that their Malaysian counterparts are disdainful of.
This resulted in a worker shortage in the industry and caused it to lose some RM10 billion a year as plantation owners don't have enough workers to harvest their oil palm fruits, which must be harvested within 21 days of their fruiting or they become unsuitable for processing.
"The plantation owners suggested that, to meet the shortfall in labor, the government consider employing workers from Africa, particularly from countries in which Malaysia is heavily invested in the oil and gas sector, and in plantation agriculture.
"This seemed an understandable suggestion given the reasons for the labor shortfall in estates in Malaysia and the fact that we are invested considerably in Africa. It was in this context that at the town hall session, I floated the idea that government may have to look to Africa to shore up the labor shortfall in plantation agriculture in Malaysia," Kula explained.
The idea also needed to get approval from the Cabinet, he said, which has not been done. "As the prime minister has said there is no necessity to bring in workers from Africa, thus I will inform the plantation owners the whole suggestion of proposed bringing in foreign workers to Malaysia would be dropped," he added.