Higher wages

KUCHING: Plantation companies in Sarawak will have to pay about 15% more in wages to recruit new Indonesian workers soon.

Indonesian consul/counsellor Rafail Walangitan (pic) said the minimium daily wages of Indonesian plantation workers in Sarawak would be raised to RM22 from RM19 in three months’ time. The last revision by RM3 a day (from RM16) was in 2010.

He said the Indonesian Kuching consulate would only issue job orders to plantation firms to recruit Indonesian workers if they commit to pay the minimium wages.

“There are now more than 200,000 Indonesian workers in Sarawak, about 70% of them are employed by plantation companies. Another 25% work in the timber industry and the rest include construction and general workers,’’ he told StarBiz yesterday.

Rafail believed there were an estimated 100,000 illegal Indonesian workers, mostly in the state’s plantation sector, who were paid much lower wages.

Citing an example, he said the consulate had to mediate in a demonstration last week by some 160 registered Indonesian plantation workers in Pusa in southern Sarawak as they were unhappy with their daily wages of RM14.

He said based on RM19 a day, Indonesian workers would earn less than RM600 a month, and that the costs of living in plantation area was high as the prices of essential goods costed more compared with the normal market.

Rafail said with the current high crude palm oil (CPO) prices, plantation companies could afford to increase the wages and provide more benefits to their workers.

“It is the responsibilities of plantation companies to share the increased profits with their employees as workers are their assets.

“With higher wages, it is hoped that Sarawak could become a main destination for Indonesian workers, who now have more choices in view of the many job opportunities in Indonesia offered by industrial and plantation development. Many of them now work in the Middle East, Hong Kong and Taiwan because of the high salaries,’’ he added.

Rafail lauded Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s recent statement that a formula should be worked out to improve the wages of plantation workers, be they locals or foreigners, as what they earn now was below the poverty line.

Muhyiddin said in Sarawak last week that the Cabinet had decided to start talks with government-linked plantation companies, beginning with Sime Darby, to restructure their workers’ wages.

The talks is spearheaded by the Human Resources Ministry Wage Consultative Council. Describing the Malaysian Government’s latest move as a good gesture to Indonesian plantation workers, Rafail hoped that any upward revision of wages could be extended to other sectors.

Saying that the consulate approved some 20,000 job orders for Sarawak plantation firms last year, he predicts that the demand for Indonesian workers could go up this year as Sarawak still faces an acute shortage of plantation workers.

Rafail met with owners of plantation and timber companies in Miri and Sibu last week to discuss ways the Indonesian authorities could help to address their labour woes, and their problems in recruiting Indonesian labour.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners’ Association said recently that the state oil palm industry was short of between 20% and 30% of its total labour requirement, and that the labour woes were expected to worsen as more land is opened up for cultivation.

An estimate of between 10% and 15% of fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) in plantations were reported not being harvested and left to rot due to labour shortage. Sarawak is reportedly losing up to RM1bil a year in revenue due to uncollected FFBs.