Malaysiakini Letter

Migrant worker wage decision sets dangerous precedent

Apolinar Tolentino, BWI-MLC  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The BWI-MLC, which represents nine unions in Malaysia, warns that the recent decision by the Malaysian Labour Court sets a dangerous precedent that could enable widespread wage theft in migrant-dominated sectors like construction, and wood and forestry.

In that decision, the court concluded that an undocumented domestic worker had no rights to claim over RM30,000 in unpaid wages.

Malaysia’s unbalanced immigration rules have led to large numbers of undocumented migrant workers in the construction and wood sectors.

This decision empowers bad employers to continue engaging undocumented workers, knowing that claims for unpaid wages are unenforceable. This comes dangerously close to sanctioning forced labour.

Calls for justice for undocumented migrant workers have been growing since the government launched Ops Mega 3, a series of raids targeting undocumented migrant workers. The raids are set to increase in scale and intensity on Aug 31, as the 3+1 amnesty programme comes to an end.

We had hoped that the Pakatan Harapan government would take a more rights-based approach to addressing migrant worker issues.

While we understand that the government should not intervene directly in the courts, this decision appears to reflect the government’s heavy-handed policy approach on this issue, which gives little weight to the individual’s own circumstances.

Undocumented through no fault of their own

The BWI-MLC supports the position elucidated in an open letter published in July noting that many undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia attain that status through no fault of their own, including by way of trafficking, deception, exploitation and the ineffective rehiring and renewal procedures.

This court decision will penalise many workers who have already been victimised through the institutions and actors in the migration process.

We are again calling on the government to immediately impose a moratorium on Ops Mega 3.0 and engage with migrant worker communities to facilitate a rights-based solution to these complex problems.


The writer is the regional representative for the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), a global union federation for workers in the construction, wood and forestry, building materials and allied sectors. The BWI is made up of 340 member unions in over 130 countries, comprising more than 12 million members.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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