Cover image via FMT

RECENTLY, the papers and social media has been abuzz over the Sarawak Government’s decision to place a moratorium on all new applications for work permits for Petronas’ employees from outside Sarawak to work in the state.

Netizens, non-governmental organizations and even the opposition parties have lauded the move by Chief Minister Adenan Satem in taking a firm stand on the Petronas issue, as well as his policies and unrelenting efforts in reclaiming Sarawak’s autonomy and rights since taking the helm as Chief Minister in 2014.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, the moratorium is seen as a hasty and ‘ill-informed’ decision made based on the misperception of Petronas’ recent group-wide business restructuring in Sarawak.

petronasThe state government’s decision was prompted by complaints from Sarawakian Petronas officers whose services were terminated or who were retrenched and that the majority of senior jobs had been filled by non-Sarawakians. In addition, recent claims from certain quarters of the influx of personnel from the peninsula filling lower-level jobs had further exacerbated the situation.

Petronas has since issued a statement denying allegations of ‘selective termination’ of Sarawakians in its organizations and is due to brief the Sarawak state government on the current status of their employees in the state. They have also given their assurance that Sarawak will a key investment state for the oil giant, “where its workforce requirement will continue to grow”.

To be fair, Petronas is not the only oil and gas (O&G) corporation that is feeling the heat from the current ailing global oil price. According to a report issued by i-Research, 11 oil and oilfield services companies in Malaysia are undertaking staff cost restructuring. Ten out of the 11, comprising Shell Malaysia, ExxonMobil Malaysia, Murphy Oil, SBM Malaysia, TH Heavy Engineering, Petrofac-RNZ, Malaysia Marine Heavy Engineering, Bumi Armada, Technip Malaysia and Ranhill WorleyParsons, have reduce their headcounts in Malaysia.

Shell Malaysia tops the list with a projected 1,300 job cuts in two years. Surprisingly, Petronas Carigali, the upstream unit of Petronas, stands as the exception to have opted for salary cuts rather than layoffs, the report said.

With this in mind, it is unfair to place the blame wholly on Petronas over the issue. With the current global economic uncertainty and weak global oil prices, the ongoing ‘business restructuring’ exercise by the big O&G players is likely to continue cross board in order for these companies to become more agile and competitive.

That begs the question: Should the State Government enforce the moratorium on all the other 11 O&G companies and not single out Petronas?

Whatever the outcome of the meeting between Petronas and the State Government, the media and netizens should not blow up the issue and jeopardize the longstanding good relations the state has with the national oil and gas corporation.

Like they say, “Bad news has good legs.” It travels far and fast and causes hurt and damage wherever it goes.

Maryam M. Richardson is an independent analyst and Malaysian Access reader. Article written is strictly her personal view. Malaysian Access does not necessarily endorse the opinions given by any third party content provider.