KUALA LUMPUR: The shortage of manpower due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the plantation sector to lose up to RM20 billion last year, said Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan.

He said one of the most affected sectors was oil palm plantations which depended on foreign labour.

Therefore, he said, the ministry is opening the registration and determining the quota to bring in foreign workers at the end of this month to meet the needs of the sector.

"Local (citizens) have not shown interest even though we have been looking for almost a year and given the opportunity," he said when answering a supplementary question from Datuk Seri Haji Salim Sharif (BN-Jempol) during the question-and-answer session in the Dewan Rakyat today.

He said taking into account the rapid technological changes, the government emphasised on training and worker development programmes.

He said this was to create a highly skilled and competent local workforce as well as to meet the current and future needs of the industry.

"The 2022 Budget has allocated for the Malaysian Family Job Guarantee Initiative themed 'Keluarga Malaysia, Makmur Sejahtera' to support the goal of reducing the unemployment rate by providing 600,000 job opportunities this year with an allocation of RM4.8 billion," he said in response to a question by S. Kesavan (PH-Sungai Siput) today.

He wanted to know the new vision and policy of the Malaysian government on training and development as well as the actions taken to ensure that the effort can be achieved within the time frame.