Waive regularisation fees for workers’ kids, say oil palm growers

There are about 258,000 workers in Sabah’s oil palm industry which spans some 1.55 million hectares of land.

KOTA KINABALU: A group which protects the interests of plantation industries in Malaysia has urged the Sabah government to consider waiving regularisation fees for workers’ dependents and to ensure that agency fees are handled by the state government itself in order to lower the rates.

The Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) said the five-month regularisation programme would mean an unexpected windfall for the agencies involved as they would stand to receive agency fees for workers’ dependents numbering on average three to five people.

“If the cost of regularisation is too high, many estates and smallholders will not register the dependents,” MEOA president Jeffery Ong told FMT.

“If that happens, we believe it would defeat Sabah’s objective of knowing how many illegals are working in the state.”

Under the regularisation programme which runs from April 1 to Sept 30 this year, an Indonesian worker is charged RM1,705 for federal immigration fees and RM1,060 for agency fees – a grand total of RM2,765.

A worker’s spouse is charged a total of RM1,365 in fees while children cost the company RM1,065 each to regularise.

There are about 258,000 workers in Sabah’s oil palm industry which spans some 1.55 million hectares of land.

Ong said even if only half of the workers require regularisation, the total number of people participating in the programme would be 516,000, assuming that each worker has a spouse and an average of two children.

“The total cost of regularising the workers would be a massive RM357 million.

“Adding to this, and for the inaugural regularisation exercise covering the spouses and children, it would be another RM176 million to cover the spouses and RM275 million for their children.”

This would bring the total cost of handling and processing to RM808 million, which is close to the amount in state sales tax paid by the industry last year, he said.

“From the exercise, the proportionate regularisation fees to be collected by the immigration would be RM364 million while the appointed agencies involved would rake in RM445 million.”

Even if only half of the expected regularisation is carried out, Ong added, the total amount involved would still deal a huge blow to the industry which he said was already suffering.

While MEOA has no issue with the charges imposed on the workers, he said, the fees for their dependents might be too steep for some smallholders.

He added that many employers are reluctant to regularise their foreign workers due to the perceived risk of them absconding.

Another concern is that the government may not reach its goal of ensuring nationwide Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification if growers do not comply with the regularisation programme.

Ong proposed that Sabah consider carrying out the programme through its own state agencies which he said might be able to do so at lower rates.

“All proceeds can then be channelled to the state coffers. But more importantly, it would help fulfil the objective of the programme to derive accurate information on the foreign workers and their dependents,” he said.

He said MEOA has submitted a detailed report to the state government together with its proposals and is hopeful of a favourable reply soon.