It is no secret that jobs described as dirty, dangerous, and difficult, such as those in the construction and plantation sectors, are less popular among Malaysians. As such, construction projects and oil palm plantations all over the country have relied heavily on foreign workers to keep operations running. According to plantation sector analysts, Malaysian oil palm planters rely heavily on foreign workers, who make up roughly 70% of the total workforce especially people from Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Plantation workers’ remuneration, according to observers, is too low to attract locals. This is partially correct. Migrant general labourers on oil palm plantations are paid pitiful pay and sometimes live in substandard environment. According to a recent statement by the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), even though good wages are offered, locals continue to reject the opportunity to work in Malaysia’s palm oil industry. As a result, the industry has no choice but to hire foreign workers who willing to work in what locals consider 3D jobs, i.e., dirty, difficult, and dangerous. Malaysians appear to prefer being unemployed and living on government subsidies when it comes to 3D work.
Even with high wages, Malaysian youth today are unable to endure the harsh environment of plantations. They simply do not have the stamina or mentality to withstand estate field conditions. Foreign workers are willing to work in difficult conditions in order to support their families back home. They are desperate for work and are motivated to look for work that will pay well and provide a long-term position. In addition, some foreign workers have been working on plantations in Malaysia for a long time.
Despite many efforts made by the firms involved and the authorities while keeping in mind the interests of half a million smallholders, labour shortages in Malaysia’s plantation sector appear to be an endless saga, notably in oil palm production. Local planters have already lost up to 25% of their potential yield due to a series of Movement Control Orders (MCOs) according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, without the services of some 37,000 foreign workers who were sent home during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Malaysia is now attempting to alleviate a pandemic-related labour shortage that has suffocated the country’s important plantation and industrial industries by speeding up the recruiting of foreign workers. According to Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan, the country is expecting to hire nearly 180,000 people in the next six weeks. Furthermore, a special committee would convene daily starting April 15 2022 to speed up the licencing and approval procedure according to state news agency Bernama.