The state government is still discussing with the Labour and Immigration ministries to try to regularise illegal workers already working in oil palm and timber plantations in the state.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu said today the move was to allow the plantation owners to continue employing them in view of the acute shortage of labour in the two industries.

Speaking at a press conference here, he said the state government was trying to work out certain regularisation procedures which should not be too rigid.

“Since we have a shortage and the illegals are already in the plantations and proving themselves to be good workers, we might as well continue to hire them.

“It will be a loss to us to drive them out. It will be costly and not easy to recruit a new batch of workers new to the jobs and the harsh environment,” he said.

Once a decision had been made, plantations owners could go through the normal procedures to get such workers regularised, he added.

On another issue, he said the state government would be told of the request by plantation owners to defer the plantation levy they had to pay, for the first 10 years, to the local councils in their areas of operation.

Yesterday, seven major oil palm companies in the state applied for the deferment as they already have to pay high taxes.

Earlier, when opening a three-day international seminar on “Agronomic Principle and Practices of Oil Palm Cultivation”, Jabu said the state government had identified a total area of 3.9 million hectares suitable for oil palm cultivation.

He said the state too targeted to cultivate one million hectares by 2010 from the current 664,612 hectares, making Sarawak the fourth biggest in oil palm cultivation in the country after Sabah, Johor and Perak.

“We hope with more new research and development inputs, we can develop the rest of the suitable areas,” he said.

Jabu said last year, Sarawak produced 1.6 million tonnes of crude palm oil with an export earning of RM4.04 million.