“When only a minority consisting of capitalists can enjoy the good life, while the majority of workers must endure hardship, they will naturally not be able to live together in peace and harmony."
Sun Yat-sen


Labour Migrants are defined as those who move for the purpose of employment. According to International Labour Organization (ILO), a migrant worker is a person who migrates from one country to another (or who has mograted from one country to another) with a view to being employed other than on his own account, and includes any person regularly admitted as a migrant for employment.


The United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families defines a migrant worker as a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a state of which he or she is not a citizen.

As at July 31, 2018, there were 1.76 million registered foreign workers in Malaysia engaged in key sectors such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture, plantation and services, according to the Ministry of Human Resources. 


Data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia revealed that most of the workers came from Indonesia (40%), followed by Nepal (21%) and Bangladesh (15%).

Issues faced by migrant workers:

  • Passports are held by employers even though it is an offence under Passports Act 1966. This may lead to abuse and implications to the workers as production of valid documents to authorities are essential upon inspection.

  • Confronted with problems like exorbitant recruitment fees, extensive overtime, unsafe working environment, low wages.

  • Forced to work under unconducive working conditions due to their debts in their effort to pay the recruitment agencies and their poverty background at the country of origin.


From 2015 to 2017, the Commission received 26 complaints related to migrant workers in Malaysia:

2 cases that breached
safety and security regulations

1 torture case

2 cases which violated
freedom of movement

8 cases that restricted
rights to employment

3 Human Trafficking cases

10 cases of issues with documentation, employment contract and employers

Pushing for Progress

Ratified Conventions

Malaysia has ratified 17 ILO Conventions including five of the eight Fundamental Conventions:

C.29 - Forced Labour Convention, 1930

C.98 - Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949

C.100 - Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951

C.105 - Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (Not in force)

C.138 - Minimum Age Convention, 1973

C.182 - Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999

SUHAKAM's Recommendations

  1. Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW).

  2. Implement the amendments to labour laws – Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 [Act 446] (WMS Act) and the Employment Act 1955 for better protection of workers.

  3. Ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189).

  4. Reduce the medical fees for non-citizens including refugees, migrant workers and stateless persons to ensure they can afford public healthcare services.

  5. Develop indicators to be used to identify victims of trafficking when screening vulnerable persons, including undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons.

SUHAKAM’s Current Work

  • Conduct investigations into complaints received from migrant workers.

  • Submitted a position paper to the Institutional Reforms Committee (IRC) on the remaining international human rights treaties including ICRMW. 

Malaysia is a popular destination amongst migrant workers for economic reasons or as a transit country. However, these groups are at risk of becoming victims of sexual and labour trafficking.

  • SUHAKAM consistently calls for the Government to intensify its efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, as well as to ensure full protection and assistance for trafficked and smuggling of migrants, in line with international standards set by the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.


SUHAKAM was invited by MAPO to provide recommendations on how to improve the laws to better provide protections to victims.

  • SUHAKAM suggested for introduction of confiscation of assets; new regulation to identify victims; and introduction of slavery and human trafficking statement as evidence of transparency in supply chains of an organization.

Sustainable Development Goals

Target 8.8 aims to protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments of all workers, including migrant workers, particularly women migrants, and those in precarious employment.

Want to learn more? Check out these video from R.AGE.

© 2019 A joint effort by SUHAKAM & UNAM Youth. All rights reserved.

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