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Malaysian plantation firm charters flight for Bangladeshi workers amid labour crunch

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FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya
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By Mei Mei Chu

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's Sime Darby Plantation on Thursday brought back over 100 migrant workers from Bangladesh as part of a pilot scheme to overcome labour shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a freeze on recruitment of new foreign workers.

Sime Darby told Reuters in an email that the scheme was being "conducted in collaboration with the Malaysian government to put return-to-work plans in motion in a controlled and safe manner."

Malaysia relies on some 2 million documented foreign workers - mainly from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal - to work in factory and plantation jobs which are shunned by locals who regard them as dirty, dangerous and difficult.

Many companies have faced labour shortage, however as a result of border closures a year ago to stem the spread of the coronavirus and a ban since the middle of last year on hiring new foreign labour in order to protect jobs for Malaysians.

Sime Darby, world's largest palm oil producer by land size, said it had chartered a flight to bring back 123 Bangladeshi employees who went to home before the pandemic and were unable to return to Malaysia when borders closed.

All COVID-19 procedures, including a seven-day quarantine, were followed to ensure workers return to work safely, the company said, adding that it was bearing all the costs.

The Home Ministry and Human Resources Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)