Palm oil companies in Malaysia are looking to recruit recovering drug addicts and prisoners to solve labour shortages, Reuters reported on 9 September.

The sector had faced a severe shortage of migrant foreign workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had led to the closure of borders.

Planters had launched recruitment drives but the response had been lukewarm, Reuters said.

Migrants from Indonesia and Bangladesh made up nearly 85% of plantation hands in an industry shunned by locals as dangerous and difficult. However, travel and movement restrictions had left producers grappling with a shortage of 37,000 workers, almost 10% of the workforce.

The shortage, especially during the peak production months, would hit output by delaying the harvest, Reuters said.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) estimated the industry had lost up to 30% of its potential yield as the labour crunch had delayed harvesting and forecast a much lower crude palm oil output than last year.

“We are even reaching out to… the Drug Prevention Association of Malaysia, as well as the Prisons Department in search of locals,” MPOA was quoted as saying in a statement on 8 September.

The recruitment of parolees and prisoners dated back to 2016, however, now more companies were interested in the programme, MPOA chief executive Nageeb Wahab told Reuters.