* Migrant workforce shrinks amid coronavirus travel curbs
* Indonesia, Bangladesh migrants make up 85% of plantation
* Shortage will hit peak output months from Sept to Nov
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Malaysia's labour-reliant
palm oil companies are looking to recruit recovering drug
addicts and prisoners to solve a severe shortage of migrant
foreign workers as the coronavirus pandemic shuts borders and
hampers output of the edible oil.
Planters in the world's second-largest producer have in
recent months embarked on rare recruitment drives to hire locals
to do everything from harvesting to fertilising crops, but
response has been lukewarm.
Migrants from Indonesia and Bangladesh make up nearly 85% of
plantation hands in an industry locals typically shun as dirty,
dangerous and difficult. But travel and movement restrictions
have left producers grappling with a shortage of 37,000 workers,
nearly 10% of the total workforce.
The shortage, especially during the peak production months
of September-November, will hurt output by delaying the harvest
of perishable fruit, giving an edge to no. 1 producer Indonesia,
which has no significant labour problems.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) estimated the
industry has lost up to 30% of its potential yield as the labour
crunch delays harvesting, and pegged the country's crude palm
oil output to be much lower than last year's 19.9 million
"We are even reaching out to ... the Drug Prevention
Association of Malaysia, as well as the Prisons Department in
search of locals," MPOA said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
Collaboration with the Prisons Department to recruit some
parolees and prisoners dates back to 2016, but now more
companies are interested in the programme, MPOA Chief Executive
Nageeb Wahab told Reuters.
Sime Darby Plantation, the world's largest palm
producer by land size, on Wednesday said it is 2,500 workers
short - about 10% of its foreign labour force - and that
companies are "desperate" to explore every opportunity for new
"We are looking at prisons for those who are going to be
released in the next few months," Sime Darby's Chief Financial
Officer Renaka Ramachandran said in a webinar. "We have also
gone to drug rehabilitation centres and try to employ anyone who
could be appropriate."
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)