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Date [ 2014-04-25, 11:52 ]

Siti Awanis Othman and Rohani Abdul Rahim, from the Faculty of Law, Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia did a paper on ‘THE NEED TO PROTECT EMPLOYERS OF MIGRANT WORKERS IN MALAYSIA.’ The following write-up has used the paper as its base.

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) Ramani Rathir = So often the media is flooded with news of migrants workers being mistreated, abused or exploited by their employers.

They are then given all the necessary aid and loads of sympathy. But when migrant workers hop to another place of employment, disappear, do not perform well at work, create unrest in the factory or other problems, most times employers have no means to get a redress. Almost every time,  we only think of workers’ protection  and rarely of the employers’ protection.

Employer Protection

Legally speaking, the rights and protections accorded to employers of migrant workers in Malaysia are still unclear. The Employment Act 1955 and Industrial Relations Act 1967 protect the rights and welfare of employees. The former Act  is more concerned with monetary benefits such as.

annual and sick leaves, maternity allowance, overtime and other benefits.. Its compelling nature is, if an employer fails to provide any of these benefits, it is considered an offence and the employer can be prosecuted in court. On the other hand, the Industrial Relations Act 1967 is more of a persuasive nature with industrial relations problems  resolved more through negotiations and conciliations.

However, the Act is silent on the right and protection accorded to the employers of the migrant workers. About five sections of the Act provide the duties of employers towards the foreign employees. Labour laws, as the term itself suggests, concerns and protects the employee sector and often viewed as being underprivileged with poor working conditions.

Issues regarding migrant workers are always the subject between the sending countries and a receiving country like Malaysia. Governments in both countries become uptight when migrant workers are said to be abused or subject to unfair treatment. Indonesia banned the importing of domestic maids for this reason and only now has relaxed the ban somewhat. In such cases, employers are speedily blamed in Malaysia and in sometimes political ties between both countries are affected.

The ideal situation would be to have employers, employees and governments understand their rights, duties and responsibilities of each of them. This includes the government who has to be aware who is, and where are they transgressing employment laws. When parties do not know how and where to channel grievances, there is room for hostilities to quickly arise.

Knowing One’s Rights

If employers of migrant workers are given enough rights and protections and on par with employees, both groups will respect each others’ rights and will try to keep the status quo.

Global migration is set to increase due to many countries having poor economic development, scant incomes, war and the unrest it brings and environmental disasters. These are factors that push many to become migrant workers, some illegally and others legally. Closer study reveals that at the moment there are three major migration issues that have to be looked into. These are:

-  governance of migration.
-  protection of migrant workers
-  maximizing development benefits of migration.

Thus the  government’s challenge will not be on how to stop or prevent migration, but more on how to govern the issue of migrant workers that will benefit all concerned, in other words, employees and employers.

Globalization has also led to the emergence of production chains set up by multinational corporations in various parts of the world. This has led to various levels of subcontracting and outsourcing to different suppliers.

One example is the call centre where employees are trained to handle customers calling from all over the world.  In the process, ‘labour  suppliers have emerged to provide the necessary manpower.

This has eroded the traditional employer-employee relationship, under which employers are accountable for conditions of work offered to workers. More often than not, the migrant workers are exploited or held in bondage by the ‘agents’ who bring them in.

Employers have a vital role to play in all the three areas listed above. It is to their credit that many employers have done so, providing fair salaries and paid on time, right up to housing and recreation outlets. The large number of foreign workers in MNCs, hypermarkets and other industries are testament to this.
Unresolved Problems

It is ironic then that employers are still facing challenges in relation to migrant workers..

They have to face numerous government policies and practical challenges in recruiting and ensuring the entry of  these foreign workers through the regular and legal channels.

In the process, employers have to comply with complex and lengthy administrative procedures; ranging from complicating documentation, inadvertently subject to legal action for employing workers with false documents and thus be sanctioned for hiring illegal’s, trying to keep the peace in a multi-ethnic environment that comprises the workplace or staff quarters.

The recent clashes between Myanmar and Rohingya workers will come to mind. Their ethnic genocide in their homeland was carried over to Malaysia.

Possible Solutions

Not only Malaysia, but other countries like Singapore, the US and many countries in Europe are filled with migrant workers, and thus making it an international issue.

As it now stands, labour laws provide protection for  employees,  while employers are subject to a slew of rules, regulations and policies that is a bureaucratic nightmare.

A start to improvements can be made by scrapping the current orientation programmes which are limited to training the new arrivals in relation to their work.

The new orientation programme should include information on the country they are going to work in, its culture, language, social norms, religious sensibilities and sensitive issues of  society. Myanmar workers shooting out betel nut spittle in buses and on the streets is a big no-no.

The programmes should ease the culture shock,Bringing in migrant workers can be allocated to one government agency for the whole country. The agency can deal directly with the government of the sending countries, and abolishing the middleman or agent in the process.

This  should also reduce the cost of employing migrant workers, especially in the domestic sector. Care must also be taken that the government  prevent unregistered agents from operating and bringing in illegal immigrants into the country.

Cut the red tape! The lengthy, tedious and costly processing tempts many employers to take the short cut of hiring illegals. Deadlines have to be met and sometimes there is no other recourse for employers. 

So maybe it is time to formulate international laws or policies that can be utilized by all countries having migrant workers. It will require a lot of global and regional co-operation. . These laws should cover not only the rights of the employees but also those of their employers.

These labour laws encompassing the rights of both employees and employers can only come into effect if countries stop handling their labour related problems as only pertaining to them. Instead they should come together to discuss, analyse and then move on ahead to formulate migrant labour laws that can be applied to all countries concerned..


It is clear that the foreign workers migration phenomenon is difficult to avoid especially when most countries in the world today are focusing on maximizing their economic development. The roles of human resources are still important especially in particular sectors such as manufacturing, construction and domestic even though the world today is getting hi-tech and less labour intensive..

It is critical that the governments of receiving and sending countries initiate efforts towards migration benefits development. Simultaneously, both employers and employees need to collaborate, support and co-operation towards the same goal. Policy makers should formulate a more transparent and comprehensive policy in dealing with migrant workers and employers.


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