Four million people, one-third of Malaysia's population depend on the rubber tree for direct survival.?
SV AND CU Cut rubber tree dripping latex into cup (3 shots)
TV through plantation.
CU Latex dripping into cup.
SV Women washing containers in river (2 shots)
LV PAN AND CU Man cutting down palm oil nuts in plantation (5 shots)
SV AND CU Man placing palm oil nuts into panniers and carrying them in a yoke (2 shots)
CU Union official speaking in English.
LV AND CU Union officials voice continues over shots of rubber plantation and man gathering palm oil nuts, latex dripping into cup (7 shots).
CU AND SV Processed latex being compressed (3 shots).
CU Bags of rubber marked for export and GV rubber plantation (4 shots).
JOYCE: "Each rubber tree has a productive lifespan of around thirty years. During that time the diagonal tappers' cut will travel up and down the trunk. The tappers' day starts early - before six a.m. when the plantation and the surrounding jungle is deep in darkness. Although most of the work is finished by two o'clock the harsh tropical sun makes for clammy, steamy conditions under the canopy of rubber branches. Temperatures rarely fall below 30 degrees celsius. And the humidity is often 100 per cent. The air is alive with mosquitoes and other biting insects. To the visitor driving through many parts of Malaysia, the whole country resembles one vast rubber plantation. And there are countless millions of rubber trees, over 1.6 million hectares. Four million acres, all laid out in neat symmetrical rows with the precious milky latex dripping slowly into millions of cups. The price of natural rubber has always been erratic and subject to wide fluctuation. In recent years this has prompted diversification into another plantation crop, palm oil. Unlike the rubber tree which needs daily attention, the oil palm kernels have to be cut down just once a week. And there's another advantage. An oil palm will produce after only two and a half years compared with the wait of between six and eight years before a rubber sapling is mature enough to tap. But like rubber, oil palms crushed from the kernel nuts is a commodity subject to world market forces way outside the control of the Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur. This plantation, part oil palm part rubber is unique. It is owned by the National Union of Plantation Workers. Union head, Mr. P. P. NARAYAN."
NARAYAN (SEQ 7): "Oh yes, you see in those days there were no changes at all. Like for example in those days when we started the Union, the wages were about 35 cents, now the minimum wage is about five to six dollars. And there were no holidays or medical facilities and other things."
JOYCE: "With prices now buoyant, what can be done to pass one some of these profits, the high profits that are now being made to the man on the ground, the worker?"
NARAYAN: "You see here we have different approaches. I have one day even advanced the theory that the time is fast approaching that every worker in the plantation should also be a shareholder in the plantation, in addition to the wages. And we might even try to have some kind of annual bonus, you know on the profits. But that will come later you know as things go by."
JOYCE: "Economists, rubber experts, and the World Bank have predicted that natural rubber will fetch at least one Australian dollar a kilo over the next five years, which is about 50 percent more than current price levels. If the world economy can climb out of the doldrums there could even be a substantial world rubber shortage by 1980. The Malaysian government believes that natural rubber is on the threshold of a bright new future. perhaps it's just as well. With four million Malaysians, one third of the population is in some way dependent on the industry, a serious natural rubber slump would be disastrous."
REPORTER: TONY JOYCE
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: Four million people, one-third of Malaysia's population depend on the rubber tree for direct survival. For years, rubber has been the country's biggest source of foreign exchange and tax revenue. But the industry is not without problems a the world market determines the price and demand for the crop and the Malaysians have had to diversify into plantations of palm trees as well. The Australian Broadcasting Commission's Tony Joyce sends this report.