PETALING JAYA: Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said today he has dropped the idea of importing workers from Africa to meet a labour shortage in oil palm plantations.
His decision “to drop the whole suggestion” comes after the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said there was no need to import workers from Africa.
In a statement tonight, Kula said: “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 bringing in foreign workers to Malaysia would be dropped.”
Kula said his statement on the matter had been taken out of context. There has been controversy over the issue, with Parti Sosialis Malaysia urging the minister earlier today not to give in to plantation owners and shore up a cheap labour policy.
Kula said the suggestion had arisen at a townhall meeting with plantation owners in Cameron Highlands. They said they faced labour problems, and had suggested that the government consider employing workers from Africa, particularly from those countries in which Malaysia had investment.
“This seemed an understandable suggestion given the reasons for the labour shortfall in estates in Malaysia,” Kula said. “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 labour shortfall in plantation agriculture in Malaysia. Also there is a need to get cabinet approval to this suggestion which has not taken place.”
Kula said that the estate owners had estimated losses in earnings of RM10 billion a year from unharvested fruits because of the labour shortage.
He said oil palm fruits must be harvested within 21 days of fruiting, and lack of workers to harvest the fruit had led to a glut.
Estate owners had said that workers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam were no longer keen on working in oil palm estates, preferring other work shunned by Malaysians.