Solidarity with Migrant Workers in Sabah Palm Oil Plantations Impacted by Covid-19 Pandemic

by | Apr 26, 2020 | Uncategorized

Sabah, Malaysia, is one of the hardest hits by Covid-19 pandemic, where migrant workers in palm oil plantations are among the most impacted. As per 24 April 2020, cases of Covid-19 infection in Tawau district is the highest in Sabah, with 81 confirmed cases out of 309 cases occurred in other 16 districts across Sabah.

Malaysian health authorities on 24 April reported a cumulative total to 5,691 cases in the country, with the daily rise remaining in double digits for the eighth straight day. The country has now reported 96 fatalities due to Covid-19 since the outbreak began.

Since 25 March 2020, as the Malaysian government issued the Movement Control Order (MCO), most of palm oil plantations as well as mills and refineries, were instructed to stop from operating. As a consequence, workers were locked inside the plantation estates, where they are not allowed to go out to buy groceries.
Usual weekly markets in many estates are not allowed to open, and the circular traders are prohibited to enter the plantations areas. Many migrant workers are having food shortages on their hands.
Although there have been food supplies and assistances from different groups and institutions in Sabah, yet they mostly are not targeting migrant workers; migrants have been working with casual and contract status for many years, and they are even found in several large palm oil corporations in Sabah. As migrants, especially those without proper documents, are largely missed from such assistances.
Palm oil companies are concerned about their business operation. On mid-April, they have requested the Federal Government to be included in strategic and essential sectors to be allowed to operate during Covid-19 pandemic. The request was approved only to plantation areas without any Covid-19 cases. Most of palm oil plantations and refineries are resumed operating on 13 April, but some others were again stopped operating the following week.
Many migrant workers report that their wages for the month of March have been reduced due to no-work for 5 days, and they worried that 12 days-off in April will also be deducted, despite of MCO order from the government and clear instruction that workers’ rights should be upheld. Workers have submitted their online complaint to the Ministry of Human Resources (Labour Ministry), with their lack of resources on their hands.
A task-force established by Sabah Plantation Industry Employee’s Union (SPIEU), Borneo Komrad, Gabungan Persatuan Belia Bahagian Tawau, and Sabah Family Planning Association, together with Asia Monitor Resource Centre and the Transnational Palm Oil Labour Solidarity, have distributed basic necessities to migrants workers and their family, including foods (rice, canned fish, cooking oil, noodles, eggs, and several others), as well as medicines, face masks and gloves.
This first distribution phase reached out workers in nine plantation estates and small plantation areas in Tawau, Brantian, Kalabakan, Kunak, and Tenom on April 19th. The biggest immediate needs are rice and other food items, as they are getting more difficult to get in the market. Therefore, the task force has to pre-order the foods for several days.

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