KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) remains optimistic that work permits will be issued to mid-sized and small plantations with the same urgency and expediency as they are to larger firms.

Amid the labour crunch facing the oil palm industry, it said the association is pleased to hear in the market that a big company had been allocated permit to bring in a limited group of workers from Lombok, Indonesia, even if it was highly publicised that the inaugural intake was aborted.

“This means that the process of issuance of permits has started.

“Notwithstanding that there may be reasons and perceptions raised pertaining to the intake abortion, the top priority now is to ensure the modus operandi is firmed up and the entire process can kick-start without delay so that all companies -- big, medium or small players -- will benefit from the return of the guest workers into Malaysia,” it said in a statement today.

MEOA said at the start of 2022, it estimated there was an acute shortage of around 120,000 workers in the local oil palm industry.

According to Malaysia Productivity Corporation, this can deprive the industry and the nation of a massive RM28 billion in revenue from unharvested fresh fruit bunches this year.

MEOA said Malaysia is missing a golden opportunity to ride on the growing global palm oil demand as it is unable to cope with the harvesting of all of the oil palm bunches at the appropriate harvesting rounds due to the limited labour force.

It warned that the acute labour shortage will also affect future earnings as many plantations would try to manage their labour productively by channelling scarce human resources merely towards crop harvesting and hence giving lower priority to other works in the fields, including palm maintenance along with fertilisation.

With the latter tasks reprioritised and sacrificed, it would have an adverse lag effect on field conditions and crop yields, especially set against insufficient application of fertilisers, MEOA said.

“Accessibility to the fields and oil palm trees would also be hindered due to overgrown fields and unpruned old fronds. Rehabilitation works will require more workforce and at higher costs,” it said.

In conclusion, MEOA urged all stakeholders, especially the relevant authorities, to “quickly connect all the dots and make the return of the guest workers a reality, sooner than later.”-Bernama