The unprecedented global pandemic of COVID-19 has drastically shifted our perspective and behavioural norms in a short span of time. When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced on March 18, 2020, most of us were troubled by what lies ahead but my initial reaction was to remain focused and dedicated to our duties as we continue to work and serve our country.
For an employee in the oil palm industry that was classified as an essential service, the COVID-19 situation proved to be a one-of-a-kind and an eye-opening experience for me. Hitting my 12th year mark on the field this year, I have encountered many situations but nothing quite like this because we needed to follow enhanced standard operating procedures for our safety.
We were briefed by the company to adhere to these stringent protocols at all times – given that what we do is extremely important to ensure the sustainability of food security for the nation and beyond. It is now the standard to screen employees daily, thoroughly clean common areas and frequently use hand sanitisers throughout the working day. This has truly left a profound impact on me because it has also redesigned our daily operations and re-established my perspective on how our work can impact the food stability of the country.
As part of my responsibility as a senior assistant manager to maintain standards on occupational safety and health at the estate, one unique point that stood out the most for me during this time is how we have changed our morning muster routine. Daily, I manage an all-male team of four field staff and 181 workers on the field, with their tasks ranging from crop harvesting to field maintenance.
However, as opposed to the usual daily routine of gathering these workers at the field at 5.30 am for roll call, we now conduct a staggered session for a maximum of 25 workers per session as part of the new enhanced standard operating procedure. This has certainly changed the working environment of our close-knit estate community which had become used to starting the day together before dispersing to the respective working locations.
From my chats with fellow teammates and subordinates, we see the value in these necessary changes and we appreciate that these protocols were implemented to safeguard the well-being of all employees, subsequently ensuring safe production for our consumers.
This unprecedented period has also presented newfound experiences for me. Ever since I completed my Cadet Planter Programme at the Golden Hope Academy, now called the Sime Darby Plantation Academy, in 2008, I never thought I would experience a virtual audit meeting. For the first time throughout my 12-year career in plantation, the recertification of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was conducted with SIRIM auditors via a virtual meeting. It was a truly unique experience for something as important as RSPO because obtaining this certification is crucial to reaffirming our commitment to sustainable palm oil production. This virtual audit will remain as one of the important highlights in my career.
Initially, being on duty during this uncertain time did come with a lot of doubts but I have been injected with a new sense of motivation, having seen the dedication the company and my teammates have demonstrated during this unconventional period. Everyone was ready to go despite new procedures, uncomfortable extra layers of protection, extra time taken to ensure that we were fit for work and the lack of the ‘normal’ interaction among team members. This period of uncertainty has solidified my passion for what I do. Now more than ever, I am driven to producing the same measurable outputs as before the enforcement of MCO. As one of the crucial industries driving the nation’s food stability, I am more than determined to play my role effectively and ensure it trickles down to the team.
Challenging but rewarding
Working during the MCO indeed is one of the most challenging but also one of the most rewarding tasks because it served as a great learning ground to enable us to push ourselves, beyond the norm, beyond the expected, and maintain focus, tenacity and deliver results. This time has also brought together the already close-knit community of the estate even closer in a united purpose to contribute to society.
As much as I enjoy the comfort of the close community at the estate, I hope we can find a way to curb the spread of the virus so I will again have the opportunity to travel and meet the community of the world. I hope the new norm that lies ahead will take place in the hearts of Malaysians and together we will make our country a safe and better place.
Manisah Amkaromi, senior assistant manager at Ladang Sunggang, a Sime Darby Plantation estate in Sabah, strongly believes that women should move out of comfort zones and challenge themselves to unearth their true potential.
Malaysian National News Agency
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