Friday, February 6, 2015

NGOs should take up Masing’s dare on plantation workers

06 Feb 02:00 PM

 by Jimmy Adit
SARAWAK FOCUS: Sarawak could very well solve the problem of labour shortage in the oil palm plantations if the NGOs, the government’s strongest critics against the plan to hire Bangladeshis as harvesters, dare take up the challenge thrown to them by Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing.
The plan is that the government will import 12,000 Bangladeshis to work in the state’s oil palm plantations which have been unable to attract enough locals to work as harvesters.
The hard fact is that oil palm plantations in Sarawak do not have enough harvesters and getting locals to work as harvesters is difficult.
The plantations have been depending on Indonesians workers, but because total acreage has increased, there are not enough Indonesians to share around.
And for as long as the harvesters are not enough, lots of fresh fruit bunches will go to waste.
According Masing, because of this, on several occasions, Sarawak had registered losses of up to RM1 billion annually.
That’s no small sum when we have lots of schools in need of better buildings and facilities, or overused village roads that need re-sealing, or citizens struggling with medical costs.
Apparently, to save the state all these losses, the government has resorted to importing harvesters from Bangladesh – 12,000 of them, with the first batch of 5,000 expected to arrive in April.
The NGOs, including lawyer Abun Sui’s Gasak, do have their grounds for asking the state government to review the plan.
Abun, in particular, has asked Sarawak to stop being dependent on foreign workers and should focus on employing locals.
He said getting the foreigners not only will deprive locals of employment opportunities but will also open the floodgates to other foreigners.
He said this had happened in Sabah, and what happens today is that in Sabah foreigners have outnumbered locals.
“They (foreigners) have taken away business and employment opportunities from the locals, and migrant workers have become citizens of Malaysia through what is known as Projek IC.
“We don’t want this (Projek IC) to happen in Sarawak,” Abun said.
Abun and the NGOs, however, are not the only ones against hiring the Bangladeshis.
Even in the plantations there are doubts, with some quarters willing to give the proposal a try while there are those who totally reject it.
In its December 10 news report, The Borneo Post writes:
Two of the plantations were willing to give these workers a try, while the other two doubted the Bangladeshis could adapt to the tough physical demands of plantation work and declared they would not engage them.
A spokesman of one of the biggest local plantations said the industry must diversify its source of labour.
“We have been heavily relying on Indonesian workers as our main source of manpower. I believe that is unwise as Indonesia is also developing its own oil palm industry.
“If we have the option of Bangladeshi workers, we will give them a try. We have received some positive response of these workers and we have informed the Land Development Ministry that we will take 200 to 300 of them.”
The spokesman added the management would gauge the performance of the pioneer group before employing more workers from Bangladesh.
His view was supported by a communication officer of a national company which owns a plantation in the state who said that his group would accept whatever the government had to offer.
“We are short of workers. We will take in whatever the government has to offer and train these workers. If it does not work out, then we will talk to the government again to find a better solution.
“Harvesting has been the toughest where special skill is needed. We really need some hardy people who can tough it out in the jungle,’” said the communication officer.
The human resource executive of another plantation stood firm that his group would not absorb any of the 12,000 Bangladeshi workers.
“First of all, there is no Bangladesh embassy here. What if some of these workers were to die, who is going to take care of them? The hot weather here would be a big problem for them.
“But most important of all, we foresee racial conflict if we engage both Indonesians and Bangladeshi workers in one place. And as Indonesian workers have proven themselves tough enough, while we have yet to test out the Bangladeshi workers, we are definitely not going to take the risk of absorbing them,” said the human resource executive.
A senior executive officer of the other plantation believed Bangladeshi workers were not cut out for oil palm plantation work.
“The 12,000 Bangladesh workers will not help to solve the problem because they are not suitable for the job. Physically, they would not be able to carry heavy loads and travel a long distance. They are more suited to work in palm oil mills or manufacturing industry.”
He was also worried that they might cause social problems in their interaction with the local community.
Masing’s reply to Abun and the NGOs is for these critics to help get locals to work in the plantations since that is what they want: “I want Abun and whoever is willing to help, to please come forward with 30,000 local workers who can help us harvest oil palm fruits as soon as possible.”
Let’s hope Masing didn’t really mean what he said. Let’s hope he said it in anger because the government had tried to recruit local workers but there were no takers.
“It’s not that we didn’t try,” Masing had said.
But if Masing really meant his challenge, it could mean a whole new chapter in the recruitment of workers for the plantation sector. That is if Abun and the NGOs do take up the challenge.
I am seeing a grand picture before me – of the role the NGOs will play if Masing’s challenge is taken.
In this grand picture I see the NGOs as the major supplier of workers to the plantations.
It is the NGOs that will be doing all the recruitment of workers and then assign these workers to the various plantations in the state.
It is also the NGOs that will be talking to the plantations on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and insurance, after all these are locals. 
A point to remember is that locals will want to work in the plantations, but not for the kind of wages paid to the Indonesians.
So I say to Abun and all those NGOs, take up the challenge. Start with the 30,000.
It’s your chance to sit down with the government and the plantations to push for what locals deserve working as harvesters and general workers in our plantations.
This is no joke. Seriously, a host of fears and problems will be solved if the NGOs really do take up the challenge.
There will no longer be fear of foreigners outnumbering locals; no more fear of “Project IC” as had happened in Sabah; no fear of jobs going to foreigners; and no fear of crimes often associated with foreigners.
In short, Sarawak has a lot to gain if Masing means his challenge and the NGOs are up to it.
- See more at:

No comments: