Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
Malaysian Trade Union Congress(MTUC) is shocked to the news that Malaysia may be upgraded to Tier 2 Status in the upcoming US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report (Star, 10/7/2015). The situation of workers and trade unions, with particular reference to migrant workers remain the same, if not has worsened.
The work environment is becoming even more precarious, enabling easier exploitation of workers; and a diminishing of workers’ and trade union rights.
Workers in Malaysia who have been long enjoying regular employment until retirement find themselves being compelled or ‘forced’ by employers into more precarious forms of employment like short-term contracts. Many even end up working in a workplace not as employees – but as workers of some third party (the ‘Contractor of Labour’). This denies these ‘outsourced’ workers the right to join existing trade unions representing employees at the workplace, or to enjoy the additional rights and benefits that is contained in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA). It also weakens existing Unions and diminishes union bargaining power for better rights.
Migrant workers continue to be ‘bonded’ because many employers are still wrongly holding on to passports and work passes/visas/permits. Whenever Migrant worker want to seek redress in Court, they are often threaten with arrest and deportation by the mere fact that employers are holding on to the passport.
When workers claim their rights through existing legal avenues, many employers simply terminate their workers, and for migrant workers this also mean the loss of ability to stay in Malaysia which is a requirement in law if they want to pursue their claims for justice. The binding of migrant workers just to one employer also makes exploitation easier.
In our outreach work, we have notice that in certain service sectors such as restaurant and security industries workers are compelled to work long hours and are only paid their basic salaries. When migrants assert their claims, more often they are threaten with theft or reports to the enforcement.
Though Migrant workers enjoys the same right as Malaysian workers in accessing Labour redress but the mere fact their stay in the country is determined by Immigration with no alternative employment, makes their cases inaccessible.
Exorbitant recruitment fees paid by workers forces she/he to be bonded to her/his employment despite the exploitative work condition. Further, being tied to the conditions of the work permit, migrant workers are reluctant to pursue their redress as losing their jobs means having to return home with huge debts. At the outset, migrants begin work in a vulnerable situation.
One of the best strategies in combating force labour practices is to give all workers the option to participate in union activities. Only in Union recognition, workers and employer can sit in at a equal platform to discuss and negotiate the terms and conditions of work. However workers and Union often faces many hindrances, threat and intimidation when participating in union activities. Multinational companies having huge resources are willing to spend any amount just to frustrate Union Activities especially in accessing collective bargaining.
MTUC is most concerned that this current moves by the US government maybe to simply facilitate Malaysia’s signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which sadly is also alleged to contain an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These ISDS clauses have been seen to be a hurdle to minimum wage increases, improving standards of workplace safety, better worker rights and human rights.
Workers in Malaysia should rightfully have received a higher minimum wage as of 1st January 2015, as it was 2 years since they first enjoyed minimum wages on 1/1/2013. The law stipulates that review of minimum wage rates need to be done at least every 2 years, which naturally would have meant a higher minimum wage for workers.
MTUC notes that for raising minimum wages, Egypt sued by Veolia Proprete, a French multinational using an ISDS provision in a trade agreement. We are, of course concerned, that after Malaysia signs the TPPA, employers will resist expending monies to improve working conditions and even wages for the priority of businesses and investor is often just profits.
In February 2015, Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro has visited Malaysia on the invitation by Malaysian Government. The Special Rapporteur has expressed her concerns particularly in the neglect of identifying victims of Force Labour and the restrictive Immigration policies that focus on deportation rather than identifying and assisting victims of trafficking. She has given numbers of recommendation to the Malaysian Government, including the rectification of International Convention such as ILO Convention 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers and ILO Protocol on Force Labour (2014) and ILO Convention Abolition of Force Labour Convention (1957) and strengthening National Legislation in addressing various forms of Trafficking. Sadly, none of her recommendation till to date has been taken into consideration.
Further the VERITÉ STUDY has found forced Labour In the production of Electronic Goods in Malaysia. The report can be accessed at:
In the lights of the above, should the US State of Department upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 Status in the upcoming Trafficking in Persons Report to give way to the Trans- Pacific Partnership, it would only raise the questions of credibility as it has failed to mirror the actual realities faced by victims of trafficking.
MTUC urges Malaysia and all countries who have businesses or investments in Malaysia to do whatever that is needful to ensure that workers in Malaysia are unexploited and treated justly, and that worker and trade union rights are promoted and respected.
N. Gopal Kishnam
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)
Tel: + 6 019 317 4717
Address: Wisma MTUC,10-5, Jalan USJ 9/5T, 47620 Subang Jaya,Selangor | Tel: 03-80242953 | Fax: 03-80243225 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org