Malaysia is taking the hunt for palm oil workers online as the world’s second-biggest producer struggles to ease an acute labor shortage that’s costing farmers billions of dollars in unharvested fruit.
The two-day virtual career carnival, organized by the plantations and human resources ministries together with the country’s social security organization, seeks to fill over 8,600 jobs offered by 26 employers in the farm sector. About 3,000 locals, including graduates and indigenous communities, are expected to participate.
“The programme is a good platform to help the industry quickly get workers and at the same time provide jobs to locals that were affected by the pandemic,” according to Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali.
Labor shortage that’s plagued the Malaysian plantation industry for years worsened after the government shut borders and froze hiring foreign workers amid the pandemic. Despite offering higher wages and perks, efforts to recruit locals have had little success because working in the sector is viewed by them as dirty, dangerous and demeaning. That’s keeping planters from maximizing harvest at a time when palm oil has rallied to a 10-year high.
“Planters can’t fully optimize production in the estates, given the severe lack of palm fruit harvesters, who are mostly foreign workers,” a group of 12 planters, refiners and palm-product manufactures said in a joint statement.
The industry, comprising more than 75% foreign workers, was short by more than 40,000 harvesters before the pandemic. That translates to crop losses of about 20% and RM11.83 billion in lost revenue annually, according to the statement.
The pandemic has created job opportunities for locals, with more than 60,000 vacancies in the commodities sector, Mohd Khairuddin said. The first phase of the carnival, which offers job- seekers online interviews, will focus on palm, rubber, timber, cocoa and pepper, he said.