MALAYSIA is caught in a Catch-22 situation where foreign labour is concerned, seeing as to how the country’s oil palm plantations are dependent on such, and without foreign labour the production in plantations might grind to a halt.
According to Penang deputy chief minister II Dr P. Ramasamy, it was reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic period the country had lost RM20 bil in the absence of foreign labour.
“Now with the pandemic in retreat foreign labour has become crucial to the revival of the plantation economy based on palm oil production,” he commented.
“Complicating the shortage of labour is the accusation by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) that plantations in Malaysia are using forced labour.”
Ramasamy also noted that plantation conglomerates such as Sime Darby Plantation and Federal Global Ventures (FGV) might be affected by the US or EU ban.
“Recently a delegation from Malaysia visited the US to convince the authorities there that Malaysia doesn’t use forced labour and if there are instances of such, they should be pointed out,” he remarked.
“The US might not be directly concerned with forced labour but in an indirect sense the use of forced labour might affect the competitiveness of US domestic companies.
“In other words, the US action against forced labour has more to do with the need to protect its domestic economy.”
As Malaysia depends on the export of palm oil products overseas for the much-needed foreign exchange that runs into billions, it is no wonder that the Government is unduly concerned about the US ban on palm oil product, Ramasamy added.
“Malaysia is in a dilemma because the more foreign labour is brought into the country, the higher chances that the US and EU might take umbrage to the phenomenon of forced labour,” he noted.
“Forced labour is more widespread in sectors that rely on cheap and malleable labour and is not exclusive to the plantation sector. The fact that forced labour is quite widespread is why the Government is finding it hard to convince the US of its absence.
“Malaysia is in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to the import of foreign labour. Furthermore, it is no rocket science that the foreign labour that might be brought into the country are not going to be skilled workers but are illiterate, unskilled and malleable.”
Ramasamy said that the foreign labour brought into the country will be subjected to the whims and fancies of employers that are seeking to make a profit out of the workers’ sweat and tears.
“It is unfortunate that despite the need for skills and competence among the workforce the tendency to rely on foreign labour is retrogressive,” he said. – May 24, 2022