Migrant workers still have it tough in Malaysia


ULAANBAATAR: Malaysia should strive to provide better protection to migrant workers in the country, says International Labour Organisation (ILO) specialist Pong Sul Ahn.

At the 10th Asia-Europe Labour Forum here in Mongolia, Pong, who is a regional specialist in workers’ education, told FMT there were two major labour issues in Malaysia, namely the rights of migrant workers and compliance with labour standards.

He said migrant workers in Malaysia could not join trade unions, and therefore faced difficulty in expressing workplace dissatisfaction as well as negotiating wages and working conditions.

Another issue, he said, was the deduction of salaries of some migrant workers to cover the costs of the levy on foreign workers.

Pong said when it came to minimum wages, no deduction of any kind should be made.

In regard to the issue of compliance with labour standards, Pong said Malaysia had not ratified the ILO’s Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Conventions.

Presently, many restrictions exist when it comes to union activities, in terms of forming and exercising trade union activities, such as organising collective bargaining.

He said Malaysia had ratified Convention 98 concerning the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention. However, due to the non-ratification of Convention 87, unions still faced difficulties in organising such activities.

Convention 87 should apply to all workers, including migrant workers and informal workers, Pong explained, adding that the Industrial Relations Act 1967, undermined trade union rights.

“If Malaysia does not protect these rights, it will end up being less competitive, labour productivity will weaken, and (the country will) face an increase in occupational diseases because workers cannot ensure a good working environment for themselves.”

He added that it would also lead to an over-reliance on cheap foreign labour that would in turn result in difficulties in restructuring industries with advanced technology and high wages.

“It will also be harder to attract good or higher skilled talents to the country.”

Pong urged Malaysia to ratify Convention 87, while ensuring compliance and enforcement of the minimum wage policy, and better protection of migrant worker rights.

According to recent reports, Malaysia has some two million legal migrant workers, while another estimated two million foreign workers do not have valid documents.