Use technology, not cheap labour: MAPA chair tells palm oil players

26 Jul 2023 04:23pm
For illustration purpose only - FILE PIX
For illustration purpose only - FILE PIX
KUALA LUMPUR - Palm oil industry players should utilise the advantages of technology as productive ways to manage operations, thus, reducing or eliminating the dependence on cheap foreign labour, said Malayan Agricultural Producers Association’s (Mapa) outgoing president, Datuk Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha.

Mohamad Helmy, who is also Sime Darby Plantations (SDP) group managing director and Malaysian Palm Oil Board chairman, said the palm oil industry’s dependence on foreign labour could be a costly mistake.

In a statement today, he said that as recently as 2012, the government had set a minimum wage of RM800 a month, and today, it is RM1,500 a month, nearly doubling in just 11 years.

"This increasing cost of foreign labour is compounded by the increasing cost of compliance with stringent labour standards, which all employers are expected to follow.

"Unfortunately for the proponents of cheap labour, foreign manual labour is associated with forced labour, human trafficking and child labour,” he said during Mapa’s 57th annual general meeting.

Mohamad Helmy said that faced with challenges concerning employee welfare, the industry has no choice but to step up its game to find transformative solutions.

Meanwhile, he called for greater collaboration and the sharing of ideas among stakeholders and urged all plantation companies to embrace change and foster innovation to shape a more sustainable and prosperous future for the palm oil industry.

"It is my hope that all the plantation companies shall bond under the patronage of Mapa so that the challenges confronting the industry can be managed collectively.

"It is also my fervent hope that we can all work together to elevate the industry so that we will no longer be defined by the 3Ds (Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning). We must move forward into the next 100 years without heavy dependence on foreign manual labour,” he said.
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Mohamad Helmy recounted to Mapa members how SDP used technology-based solutions to address critical labour shortages in October 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The two goals set by SDP were to mechanise, automate and digitalise work in the estates, changing it from manual and menial to skilled and technical; and to employ more trained and highly skilled Malaysians to undertake the new type of plantation work, eventually eliminating dependence on foreign manual labour,” he said.

Mohamad Helmy added that SDP has announced that it aimed to have a 100 per cent local workforce for its upstream operation in Malaysia by 2027, provided that a viable solution for mechanised or automated fresh fruit bunch harvesting is also achieved. - BERNAMA

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