e-ISSN 2231-8542
ISSN 1511-3701

Home / Regular Issue / JTAS Vol. 31 (2) Jun. 2023 / JSSH-8741-2022


Perceptions of the Rights and Welfare of Foreign Workers in Peninsular Malaysia

Muhammad Safwan Ibrahim and Rodziana Mohamed Razali

Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science, Volume 31, Issue 2, June 2023


Keywords: Foreign workers, force labour, perceptions, rights, survey, welfare

Published on: 16 June 2023

The Malaysian government has implemented numerous policies and laws to regulate and monitor the employment of foreign workers in the country. This study examines key issues related to relevant labour laws in Malaysia addressing the welfare and rights of foreign workers, primarily workers’ wages and deductions, levy and repatriation costs, insurance and medical benefits, passport retention, discrimination by employers and access to complaint mechanisms. Secondly, this study draws on several survey findings that indicate the existence of forced labour indicators that may amplify the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse and exploitation. A survey was conducted to obtain perspectives on the rights and welfare of foreign workers in Peninsular Malaysia using a convenience sampling approach to collect relevant data. The study was undertaken among foreign workers with Visitor’s Pass (Temporary Employment) (Pas Lawatan Kerja Sementara, or PLKS) and employers of PLKS holders. The survey findings suggest that several aspects of foreign workers’ rights and welfare are not effectively protected, with some indicating the presence of forced labour indicators. In addition, two other findings are highlighted to indicate further the areas in which there is a lack of protection for the rights and welfare of foreign workers. The study provides several recommendations and suggests further qualitative studies to gather in-depth perspectives of foreign workers and employers. The findings can help develop effective policy and legal intervention strategies to improve the rights and welfare of foreign workers in Malaysia.

  • Ahsan Ullah, A. K. M. (2013). Theoretical rhetoric about migration networks: A case of a journey of Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia. International Migration, 51(3), 151-168.

  • Ajis, M. N., Keling, M. F., Othman, Z., & Shuib, M. S. (2014). The dilemma of managing foreign workers in Malaysia: Opportunities and challenges. Global Journal of Human Social-Science: Political Science, 14(4), 43-53.

  • Ajis, M. N., Keling, M. F., Zakuan, U. A. A., & Zain, Z. M. (2018). Kajian terhadap proses dan pendekatan dalam pembentukan dasar pekerja asing di Malaysia. [A study of the process and approach in the formation of foreign worker policy in Malaysia.]. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 15(5), 48-65.

  • Amnesty International Publications. (2010). Trapped: The exploitation of migrant workers in Malaysia. Amnesty International.

  • Bernama. (2018, November 29). Kula: Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 to be abolished. News Straits Times.

  • Bernama. (2021, May 3). HR Ministry launches application for workers to submit labour-related complaints. Malay Mail.

  • Bernama. (2022, April 30). No delay in implementation of PGM 2020 for all economic sectors. Bernama.

  • Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2017). Research methods in education (8th ed.). Routledge.

  • Del Carpio, X., Karupiah, R., Marouani, M., Ozden, C., Testaverde, M., & Wagner, M. (2013). Immigration in Malaysia: Assessment of its economic effects, and a review of the policy and system. The World Bank.

  • Devadason, E. S. (2020). Foreign labour policy and employment in manufacturing: The case of Malaysia. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 51(3), 398–418.

  • Devadason, E. S., & Chan, W. M. (2013). Policies and laws regulating migrant workers in Malaysia: A critical appraisal. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44(1), 19–35.

  • Earthworm Foundation. (2019). Insights into recruitment costs and practices amongst small-medium sized companies in the palm oil industry in Peninsular Malaysia.

  • Fair Labor Association. (2018). Assessing forced labor risks in the palm oil sector in Indonesia and Malaysia.

  • Hamzah, I., & Daud, S. (2016). Implikasi kemasukan pekerja asing di Malaysia: Suatu tinjauan awal [The Implications of the Entry of Foreign Workers in Malaysia: An Initial Review]. Sains Insani, 1(1), 69-77.

  • Harkins, B. (2016). Review of labour migration policy in Malaysia. International Labour Office.

  • Harkins, B., & Åhlberg, M. (2017). Access to justice for migrant workers in South-East Asia. International Labour Office.

  • Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM). (2018). Annual Report 2018.

  • Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA). (2020). The socio-economic impact from employment of low-skilled foreign workers and international internship programme in Malaysia. Ministry of Human Resource.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2012). ILO indicators of forced labour. International Labour Office.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2017). Malaysia: Report to the government social security organization tenth actuarial valuation, as of 31 December 2014. International Labour Office.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2018a). Equality of treatment (accident compensation) convention, 1925 (No. 19) – Malaysia – Sarawak (Ratification: 1964).

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2018b). Situation and gap analysis on Malaysian legislation, policies and programmes, and the ILO forced labour convention and protocol.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2022a). Frequently asked questions on fair recruitment.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO). (2022b). Malaysia ratifies the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention.

  • Kanapathy, V. (2006). Migrant workers in Malaysia: An overview. Workshop on East Asian cooperation framework for migrant labour.

  • Kaos Jr, J. (2021, October 26). Bosses have until Dec 31 to legalise undocumented workers before large-scale enforcement, says Hamzah. The Star.

  • Kassim, A. (2012). Dasar pekerja asing di Malaysia [Foreign Worker Policy in Malaysia]. Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

  • Kok, C. (2018, March 31). Economist: Manage labour issues to achieve high-income economy. The Star.

  • Krejcie, R. V., & Morgan, D. W. (1970). Determining sample size for research activities. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 30(3), 607–610.

  • Lee, H. A., & Pereira, A. (2023). Can Malaysia eliminate forced labour by 2030? ISEAS Publishing.

  • Loganathan, T., Chan, Z. X., & Pocock, N. S. (2020). Healthcare financing and social protection policies for migrant workers in Malaysia. PLOS ONE, 15(12), Article e0243629.

  • Low, C. C. (2020). De-commercialisation of the labor industry in Malaysia. Southeast Asian Studies, 9(1), 27–65.

  • Low, C. C. (2021). Legal reforms in protecting migrant workers’ welfare in Malaysia: Labor law and social security. Advances in Southeast Asian Studies, 14(1), 59–80.

  • Malaysian Immigration Department. (2020). Laporan statistik pekerja asing sehingga 31 Januari 2020 [Foreign worker statistical report until 31st January 2020].

  • Ministry of Health Malaysia. (2011, January 1). Kaedah pelaksanaan skim perlindungan insurans kesihatan pekerja asing [Method of implementing the foreign worker health insurance protection scheme].

  • Ministry of Human Resource Malaysia. (2022a). Aku janji majikan [Employer undertaking]

  • Ministry of Human Resource Malaysia. (2022b). Minimum Wages Order 2022. Attorney General’s Chambers of Malaysia.

  • Mohamed Razali, R. (2022, July 16). Monitor recruiters of migrant workers to curb malpractices. News Straits Times.

  • Palma, P. (2015, August 9). Jobs in Malaysia: Part-1: Govt initiative made to fail? The Daily Star.

  • Prime Minister’s Department. (2021). Twelfth Malaysia Plan (2021-2025): A prosperous, inclusive, sustainable Malaysia.

  • Sekaran, U., & Bougie, R. (2016). Research methods for business: A skill building approach (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.,+7th+Edition-p-9781119266846#:~:text=Research%20Methods%20for%20Business%3A%20A%20Skill%2DBuilding%20Approach%20is%20a,applied%20in%20real%20business%20situations.

  • Social Security Organisation (SOCSO). (2020). Employment injury scheme for foreign worker.

  • Tang, M. T. (2019). Business responsibility on preventing and addressing forced labour in Malaysia: A must-read guide for Malaysian employers. International Labour Organization.

  • Taylor-Nicholson, E., Balasubramaniam, R., & Mahendran, N. (2019). Migrant workers’ access to justice: Malaysia. Bar Council Malaysia.

  • United States Department of State. (2016). 2016 Trafficking in persons report - United States of America.

  • United States Department of State. (2017). 2017 Trafficking in persons report - United States of America.

  • United States Department of State. (2020). 2020 Trafficking in persons report - United States of America.

  • United States Department of State. (2021). 2021 Trafficking in persons report – United States of America.

  • Verité. (2014). Forced labor in the production of electronic goods in Malaysia: A comprehensive study of scope and characteristics.

  • Vinothaa, S. (2022, July 14). Forced labour: Loopholes in the law may keep M’sia in Tier 3 chasm. MalaysiaKini.

  • Wahab, A., & Razak, M. F. A. (2022). Situation analysis labour issues in the palm oil sector, Sabah, Malaysia. Institute of Malaysian and International Studies.

  • Wei, A. J., Murugasu, A., & Wei, C. Y. (2018). Low-skilled foreign workers’ distortions to the economy. Central Bank of Malaysia.

  • Wei, W. M., & Yazdanifard, R. (2015). The review of challenges foreign workers face in construction industry of Malaysia. Global Journal of Management and Business Research, 15(4), 13-16.

  • Wickramasekara, P. (2015). Bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding on migration of low skilled workers: A review. International Labour Office - Geneva.