COVID-19: Malaysia’s Sarawak state reels from foreign workers’ ban hinh anh 1Plantations need more than 45,000 foreign workers and the state only allows the hiring of Indonesians. (Photo:

Kuala Lumpur (VNA) -  Two of Sarawak state’s economic sectors heavily dependent on foreign labourers, oil palm plantations and construction, are reeling from the Government’s ban imposed on nationals from 23 countries from September 7.

The ban applies to countries recording more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases and among them is Indonesia – the state’s sole approved source of foreign labourers.

The palm oil industry is a major contributor to Sarawak’s income as well as the federal government in the form of taxes and other revenues earned from the industry through export of crude palm oil (CPO).

Currently, the planted area has reached 1.7 million hectares, the largest single planted area and growth region in Malaysia.

While the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners’ Association (SOPPOA) said on its website that the palm oil industry in the state “is critically short of workers”. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, plantations were already suffering from labour shortage.

The shortage is estimated at more than 45,000 and that, the association added, has become a major crisis since the commencement of movement-control order (MCO) imposed since March 2020.

It said no new Indonesian workers, particularly harvesters and general workers for the so-called 3D work (dirty, dangerous and difficult), which locals generally shun, are allowed into the country while those whose employment contracts expired have left the country.

Compounding the problem is that the state’s population – just more than two million people – is small and the industry has to compete with other more lucrative sectors for the workers.

More worrisome for the industry too, is that the shortage will be prolonged and SOPPOA estimated that the restart of intake of new foreign workers will take between six and nine months to recover from the shortage now.

While SOPPOA sees the future rather bleak, the Sarawak Housing and Real Estate Developers’ Association (Sheda) saw the opposite and it showed some optimism in the housing construction industry.

Property developers and their contractors have to make do with their existing human resources. The property sector, like all the industries that rely heavily on Indonesian workers, should take this time to automate some of the work.

According to authorities, there are an estimated 138,000 foreign workers in Sarawak state./.